Introduction to Microsoft Excel


Using Microsoft Excel



Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet application used to create lists, perform calculations, and analyze numbers. It can be used in business, economics, or accounting, etc.

While the default features of Microsoft Excel should be enough in most scenarios, in some cases you will want more complex functionality to perform advanced operations. To make this possible, Microsoft Excel is accompanied by Microsoft Visual Basic, a programming environment that allows you to use the Visual Basic language to enhance the usefulness and functionality of a spreadsheet.

Introduction to Microsoft Excel

To use Microsoft Excel, you can launch like any regular Microsoft Windows application. You can click Start -> (All) Programs -> Microsoft Office -> Microsoft Office Excel 2007. If you have a Microsoft Excel document in Windows Explorer, in My Documents, or in an email, etc, you can double-click it. This would also start Microsoft Excel and would open the document.

The classic way users launch Microsoft Excel is from the Start menu on the task bar. You can also start the application from a shortcut on the desktop. There are many ways you can create a shortcut on your desktop. To create a Microsoft Excel shortcut on the desktop, do one of the following:

Practical Learning: Starting Microsoft Excel

  • To start Microsoft Excel, from the Taskbar, click
    Start -> (All) Programs -> Microsoft Office -> Microsoft Office Excel
    Microsoft Excel

The Office Button



When Microsoft Excel opens, it displays an interface divided in various sections. The top section displays the title bar which starts on the left side with the Office Button Office Button. If you position the mouse on it, a tool tip would appear:

Office Button

The Options of the Office Button

When clicked, the Office Button displays a menu:

Office Button Clicked

As you can see, the menu of the Office Button allows you to perform the routine Windows operations of a regular application, including creating a new document, opening an existing file, or saving a document, etc. If you right-click the office button, you would get a short menu:


We will come back to the options on this menu.

The Quick Access Toolbar



The Quick Access Toolbar Quick Access toolbar is on the right side of the Office Button. It displays a few buttons. If you right-click the Quick Access toolbar, a menu would appear:

Quick Access

To hide the Quick Access toolbar, you can right-click it and click Remove Quick Access Toolbar. If you position the mouse on a button, a tool tip would appear.

In the beginning, the Quick Access toolbar displays only three buttons: Save, Undo, and Redo. If you want more buttons than that, you can right-click the Quick Access toolbar and click Customize Quick Access Toolbar... This would display the Excel Options dialog box:

Excel Options

To add a button to the Quick Access toolbar, on the left list of Add, click an option and click Add. After making the selections, click OK.

To remove a button from the Quick Access toolbar, right-click it on the Quick Access toolbar and click Remove From Quick Access Toolbar.

The Quick Access Button

A button with a down-pointing arrow displays on the right side of the Quick Access toolbar. You can click or right-click that button to display its menu:

Customize Quick Access Toolbar

The role of this button is to manage some aspects of the top section of the Microsoft Excel interface, including deciding what buttons to display on the Quick Access toolbar. For example, instead of using the Customize Quick Access Toolbar menu item as we saw previously, you can click an option from that menu and its corresponding button would be added to the Quick Access toolbar. If the options on the menu are nor enough, you can click either Customize Quick Access Toolbar or More Commands... This would open the Excel Options dialog box.

The main or middle area of the top section displays the name of the application: Microsoft Excel. You can right-click the title bar to display a menu that is managed by the operating system.

On the right side of the title bar, there are three system buttons that allow you to minimize, maximize, restore, or close Microsoft Access.

Under the title bar, there is another bar with a Help button on the right side.

The Ribbon



Under the title bar, Microsoft Excel displays the Ribbon:


By default, the Ribbon displays completely in the top section of Microsoft Excel under the title bar. One option is to show it the way the main menu appeared in previous versions of Microsoft Excel. To do this:

  • Right-click the Office Button, the Quick Access toolbar, or the Ribbon itself, and click Minimize the Ribbon
  • Click or right-click the button on the right side of the Quick Access toolbar:

This would display the Ribbon like a main menu:


To show the whole Ribbon again:

  • Right-click the Office Button, the Quick Access toolbar, or one of the Ribbon menu items, and click Minimize the Ribbon to remove the check mark on it
  • Click or right-click the button on the right side of the Quick Access toolbar and click Minimize the Ribbon to remove the check mark on it
  • Double-click one of the menu items of the Ribbon

Changing the Location of the Ribbon

By default, the Quick Access toolbar displays on the title bar and the Ribbon displays under it. If you want, you can switch their locations. To do that, right-click the Office Button, the Quick Access toolbar, or the Ribbon, and click Show Quick Access Toolbar Below the Ribbon:

To put them back to the default locations, right-click the Office Button, the Quick Access toolbar, or the Ribbon, and click Show Quick Access Toolbar Above the Ribbon.

The Tabs of the Ribbon

The ribbon is a type of property sheet made of various property pages. Each page is represented with a tab. To access a tab:

  • You can click its label or button, such as Home or Create
  • You can press Alt or F10. This would display the access key of each tab:
    Access Keys

    To access a tab, you can press its corresponding letter on the keyboard. For example, when the access keys display, if you press Home, the Home tab would display
  • If your mouse has a wheel, you can position the mouse anywhere on the ribbon, and role the wheel (on the mouse). If you role the wheel down, the next tab on the right side would be selected. If you role the wheel up, the previous tab on the left side would be selected. You can keep rolling the wheel until the desired tab is selected

To identify each tab of the Ribbon, we will refer to them by their names.

The Sections of a Tab

Each tab of the ribbon is divided in various sections, each delimited by visible borders of vertical lines on the left and right. Each section displays a title in its bottom side. In our lessons, we will refer to each section by that title. For example, if the title displays Font, we will call that section, "The Font Section".

Some sections of the Ribbon display a button Button. If you see such a button, you can click it. This would open a dialog box or a window.

The Buttons of the Ribbon

Since there are various buttons and sometimes they are unpredictable, to know what a particular button is used for, you can position your mouse on it and a tool tip would appear:

Tool Tip

You can also use context sensitive help in some cases to get information about an item.

You can add a button from a section of the Ribbon to the Quick Access toolbar. To do that, right-click the button on the Ribbon and click Add to Quick Access Toolbar:

Add to Quick Access Toolbar

Remember that, to remove a button from the Quick Access toolbar, you can right-click it on the Quick Access toolbar and click Remove From Quick Access Toolbar.

The More Buttons of the Ribbon

In some sections of the Ribbon, on the lower-right corner, there is a button:


That button is used to display an intermediary dialog box for some actions.

The Size of the Ribbon

When Microsoft Excel is occupying a big area or the whole area of the monitor, most buttons of the Ribbon appear with text. Sometimes you may need to use only part of the screen. That is, you may need to narrow the Microsoft Excel interface. If you do, some of the buttons may display part of their appearance and some would display only an icon. Consider the difference in the following three screenshots:




In this case, when you need to access an object, you can still click it or click its arrow. If the item is supposed to have many objects, a new window may appear and display those objects:

From this:

Reduced Ribbon

To this:

Arrow Button Clicked




The Work Area


The Name Box

Under the Ribbon, there is a white box displaying a name like A1 (it may not display A1...), that small box is called the Name Box:

Name Box

The Insert Function Button

On the right side of the Name box, there is a gray box with an fx button. That fx button is called the Insert Function button.

The Formula Bar

On the right side of the Insert Function button is a long empty white box or section called the Formula Bar:

You can hide or show the Formula Bar anytime. To do this, on the Ribbon, click View. In the Show/Hide section:

  • To hide the Formula Bar, remove the check mark on the Formula Bar check box
  • To show the Formula Bar, check the Formula Bar check box

The Column Headers

Under the Name Box and the Formula bar, you see the column headers. The columns are labeled A, B, C, etc:


There are 255 of columns.

The Row Headers

On the left side of the main window, there are small boxes called row headers. Each row header is labeled with a number, starting at 1 on top, then 2, and so on:

Row Headers

The Cells

The main area of Microsoft Excel is made of cells. A cell is the intersection of a column and a row:


A cell is identified by its name and every cell has a name. By default, Microsoft Excel appends the name of a row to the name of a column to identify a cell. Therefore, the top-left cell is named A1. You can check the name of the cell in the Name Box.

The Scroll Bars

On the right side of the cells area, there is a vertical scroll bar that allows you to scroll up and down in case your document cannot display everything at a time:

Vertical Scroll Bar

In the lower right section of the main window, there is a horizontal scroll bar that allows you to scroll left and right if your worksheet has more items than can be displayed all at once:

Horizontal Scroll Bar

Sometimes the horizontal scroll bar will appear too long or too narrow for you. If you want, you can narrow or enlarge it. To do this, click and drag the button on the left side of the horizontal scroll bar:

Horizontal Scroll Bar

The Sheet Tabs

On the left side of the horizontal scrollbar, there are the worksheet tabs:

Tab Sheets

By default, Microsoft Excel provides three worksheets to start with. You can work with any of them and switch to another at any time by clicking its tab.

The Navigation Buttons

On the left side of the worksheet tabs, there are four navigation buttons:

Navigation Buttons

If you happen to use a lot of worksheets or the worksheet names are using too much space, which would result in some worksheets being hidden under the horizontal scroll bar, you can use the navigation buttons to move from one worksheet to another.

The Status Bar

Under the navigation buttons and the worksheet tabs, the Status Bar provides a lot of information about the job that is going on.

Microsoft Excel File Operations


Saving a File

A Microsoft Excel file gets saved like any traditional Windows file. To save a file:

  • You can press Ctrl + S
  • On the Quick Access Toolbar, you can click the Save button
  • You can click the Office Button and click Save Save

Two issues are important. Whenever you decide to save a file for the first time, you need to provide a file name and a location. The file name helps the computer identify that particular file and register it.

A file name can consist of up to 255 characters, you can include spaces and dashes in a name. Although there are many characters you can use in a name (such as exclamation points, etc), try to avoid fancy names. Give your file a name that is easily recognizable, a little explicit. For example such names as Time Sheets, Employee's Time Sheets, GlobalEX First Invoice are explicit enough. Like any file of the Microsoft Windows operating systems, a Microsoft Excel file has an extension, which is .xls but you don't have to type it in the name.

The second important piece of information you should pay attention to when saving your file is the location. The location is the drive and/or the folder where the file will be saved. By default, Microsoft Excel saves its files in the My Documents folder. You can change that in the Save As dialog box. Just click the arrow of the Save In combo box and select the folder you want.

Microsoft Excel allows you to save its files in a type of your choice. To save a file in another format:

  • Press F12 or Shift + F12
  • You can click the Office Button and position the mouse on Save As and select the desired option:
  • On the Quick Access Toolbar, you can click the Save button . Then, in the Save As dialog box, click the arrow of the Save As Type combo box and select a format of your choice

There are other things you can do in the Save As dialog box:

Save As

Saving under a Different Name and New Folder

You can save a file under a different name or in another location, this gives you the ability to work on a copy of the file while the original is intact.

There are two primary techniques you can use to get a file in two names or the same file in two locations. When the file is not being used by any application, in Windows Explorer (or in My Computer, or in My Network Places, locate the file, right-click it and choose Copy. To save the file in a different name, right-click in the same folder and choose Paste. The new file will be named Copy Of... You can keep that name or rename the new file with a different name (recommended). To save the file in a different location, right-click in the appropriate folder and click Paste; in this case, the file will keep its name.

In Microsoft Excel, you can use the Save As dialog box to save a file in a different name or save the file with the same name (or a different name) in another folder. The Save As dialog box also allows you to create a new folder while you are saving your file (you can even use this technique to create a folder from the application even if you are not saving it; all you have to do is create the folder, click OK to register the folder, and click Cancel on the Save As dialog box).

Opening a File

The files you use could be created by you or someone else. They could be residing on your computer, on another medium, or on a network. Once one of them is accessible, you can open it in your application.

You can open a document either by double-clicking its icon in Windows Explorer, in My Computer, from the Find Files Or Folders window, in My Network Places, or by locating it in the Open dialog box. To access the open dialog box, on the main menu, click File -> Open... You can also click the Open button on the Standard toolbar.

A shortcut to call the Open dialog box is Ctrl + O.

Files Properties

Every file has some characteristics, attributes, and features that make it unique; these are its properties. You can access a file's properties from three main areas on the computer:

  • If the file is saved on the desktop and/or it has a shortcut on the desktop, if you open My Computer, Windows Explorer, or the folder (as a window) where the file is stored, right-click the file and click Properties. If the file were saved on the desktop, you would see only some of its properties, the most you can do there is to assign a Read-Only attribute. In My Computer and Windows Explorer, you will be able to change the file's properties.
    Before opening a file or while in the Open dialog box, you can view some of the file's properties although you won't be able to change them.
  • When the file is opened in Microsoft Excel, you can click the Office Button, position the mouse on Prepare, and click Properties. This would display some of the most common attributes of the file:
    To change an item, you can click its text box and edit or replace the content. To get more options, you can click the Document Properties button and click Advanced Properties...

A file's properties are used for various reasons. For example, you can find out how much size the file is using, where it is located (the hosting drive and/or folder), who created the file, or who was the last person to access or modify it. The Properties dialog box is also a good place to leave messages to other users of the same file, about anything, whether you work as a team or you simply want to make yourself and other people aware of a particular issue regarding the file.

Practical Learning: Closing Microsoft Excel

  • To close Microsoft Excel, click the Office Button and click Exit Excel.
    If you are asked whether you want to save the file, click No

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