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Excel for Grannies - Part 1 - The Basics

Updated on February 25, 2013

What is Microsoft Excel?

Excel is a spreadsheet similar to a paper ledger. It allows you to place data into neat cells, columns and rows and can perform automatic calculations. They are extremely useful because if you change a value it automatically re-calculates and updates the spreadsheet.

The data is organized in Cells, Rows and Columns. The cells are each individual squares, the rows are the number on the left, and the columns are the letters at the top. Cells can customized, by changing colors, fonts, borders improve the presentation of your spreadsheet or to highlight key points.

In the screen shot below we can see that the Total cost is in Cell B4. Cell B4 contains a formula which multiplies B1 * B2. If you were to change any of the contents of B1 or B2 then the Total cost will be automatically updated.

Simple Addition

Let's look at how to find the total of a list of numbers. Looking at the below screen shot you can see that I have put fruit in Column A. Column B contains the numbers of each fruit. Cell B9 has the total number of all the fruit, which is a simple formula. The formula is =sum(B1:B8). The equals sign means a formula is to follow, sum means to add a range of numbers and (B1:B8) means use this range of cells. So to summarize it means add together all the numbers from Cells B1 to B8. Should you try changing any of the values of the fruit you'll notice how the formula is cell B9 get updated.

You will have noticed that there is a pound sign in the top example in Column B. This is done by formatting the cell. If you select the cell, then right click to open the sub-menu, select format, then select currency you will be able to choose the pound sign from the drop-down list. You can also set how many decimals places you want to display and other useful formats.

If you also have numbers in the C column, you could automatically add them up by copying and pasting the formula from cell B9 to C9. This will intelligently copy the same pattern into the adjacent column.

Finding the average

This is a very useful but simple function which automatically calculates the average from a list of numbers. Similar to Addition function, range goes inside the brackets. =AVERAGE(A1:A6) this cell will now contains the automatically calculated Average as in the screen shot to the right.


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