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Microsoft Excel - Basic Terms and Terminology

Updated on May 25, 2013

List Of Terms Covered In This Hub

Quick Explanation
An Excel file
A worksheet within an Excel file
The menu bar at the top of Excel
A rectangular box in a worksheet to contain data
Name Box
Shows the cell/table selected; also used to rename cells/tables
Cell Reference
The cell/table selected
Formula Bar
Shows the data/formula/phrase in the cell selected
A set of instruction for Excel to carry out
Formulas built into Excel
A group of cells or tables denoted by a colon between th 1st and last cell


A workbook is , to put it simply, an Excel file. All Excel files are workbooks, with 1 or many worksheets.

In the diagram on the right, the workbook is called 'Book 1', which is also the name of the Excel file should it be saved.

Think of it as the accounting ledger book; that's right, the entire book. Individual pages are called worksheets.


A worksheet is an independent (we will talk more about this later) sheet which can contain one or many data tables.

Think of it as a page in the accounting book, one page of many.

Most of the time, when you start a new workbook you would have 3 worksheets (shown in the red box in the diagram on the right). To delete any, right-click on the worksheet and select 'Delete'. To add worksheets, click the 'Add Worksheet' button (the green box in the diagram on the right).

NB: A worksheet is 'independent' of other worksheet only in the sense that they are all separate entities. You can have a formula that references amongst worksheets; formulas are explained below.


The Ribbon is the row of buttons above the work area. The ribbon is only found in versions of Excel newer than Excel 2007, and it replaces the menus and toolbars found in earlier versions of Excel.

The Ribbon has a few tabs such as Home, Insert, and Page Layout. Clicking on a tab will show the options associated with this section of the Ribbon.


A cell is any rectangular box within a worksheet. A cell can contain data or formulas.

An active cell or current cell is the cell which is currently selected. It is denoted by a thick black outline.

Name Box

The Name Box shows the name of either the active/current cell, or the name of a defined range of cells or table.

All cells or a range of cells (a table) can be named by selecting the cell (or table) and changing the name in the Name Box. However, each worksheet can have only 1 of the same named cell/table.

Cell Reference

The Cell Reference shows the name of the cell/table being selected, i.e. it shows the name of the active/current cell or table.

Cell References are shown in the Name Box.

Formula Bar

The Formula Bar is where the contents of the active/current cell is shown.

If a formula is used in the active/current cell, the Formula Bar would show the actual formula used, whereas the active/current cell show the final, calculated result (which could be a number or phrase.


One of Excel's most powerful tool is the ability to use formulas. Formulas allow you to do automated calculations within worksheets, and even amongst different workbooks.

A formula is typed into the formula bar and must begin with an equal (=) sign. You can use formulas to carry out any of the 4 basic mathematical operators (add, subtract, multiply and divide), use brackets to dictate the order of solving the formula, or use any of the hundreds of in-built functions in Excel.


Functions are formula that are built into Excel. Think of functions as an easier way to create formulas.

For example, in the diagram to the right we want to find the sum total of cells A1 and B1. We would write the formula:


If we make use of the "SUM" function, The formula would be:


Granted, for just cells it might be easier just to add both up. However, when you have to do this to many cells or among different tables, the SUM function would really make writing the formula much easier.

There are about 400 function built into Excel. For a full listing of all the functions by categories, check out Microsoft's Excel page here.

NB: I find the listing at Microsoft's page really useful, but it doe not go in-depth enough. Some more reading might be useful if you really want to know how to make use of functions. A book that I found really useful is Excel 2010 Formulas by John Walkenbach (a.k.a. Mr Spreadsheet). It is well written and the explanation of each and every function would really help you get the hang of Excel.


Lastly, we talk about the Array, or also known a Range. Arrays/Ranges are just consecutive cells that are grouped together; for example, in our SUM formula above, the array/range used is "A1:B1", which tells the formula to read from A1 to B1.

Arrays/Ranges are denoted with a colon (:) between the first cell and the last cell of the array/range. They can be used to call up cells in:

  • Rows (e.g. "A1:E1"; shown in the red box)
  • Columns (e.g. "A1:A5"; shown in the green box)
  • Tables (e.g. "A1:E5"; shown in the blue box)

As you can see, arrays/ranges would really help shorten the formula when here are many cells to be referenced.


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      ALDEN NERISSA 22 months ago