How to Write a Formula in Excel
(Beginner Tutorial)

Excel is all about running calculations! And so creating and operating a formula in Excel is simple.

An Excel formula is a combination of operators and operands. For example, 2 + 2 = 4 is a formula where 2s are the operands, plus sign (+) is the operator, and 4 is the answer to the formula.

Only if you know the basics to write a formula in Excel – there’s a high chance you’d solve most of your Excel problems. This article explains the basics of creating Excel formulas.

So let’s dive right in.

As you scroll down, download our free sample workbook here to practice the examples used in the guide below. 😀

How to create formulas in Excel

Creating Excel formulas is easy as pie.

For example, what is 10 divided by 2? Can you calculate this in Excel?

1. Start by activating a cell.

2. Write an equal sign.

Write an equal sign

It is very important to start any formula with an equal sign. If you do not start with an equal sign, Excel wouldn’t recognize it as a formula but as a text string.

Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist

3. Input the simple mathematical operation of 10 divided by 2.

= 10 / 2

Mathematical operation

4. Hit enter, and you’re good to go!

Excel operates the formula.

You can create the same above formula with a slight variation.

For example, if you have the operands as cell values.

Operands as cell values

1. Write the formula using cell references as follows.

= A2 / B2

Dividing two cell references

The above formula translates to ‘A2 divided by A3’.

Where A2 has the numeric value 10, and A3 has the numeric value 2.

2. The results remain the same as in the above example.

Dividing two cell references

Creating a formula using cell references and values

The same formula can also be created using a combination of cell references and values.

Write the following formula using cell references and values.

= A2 / 2

Dividing a cell reference by a value

The above formula translates to ‘A2 divided by 2’.

Where A2 has the numeric value 10, and 2 is a value.

1. The results look as follows.

Dividing a cell reference by a value

Pro Tip!

Using cell references is better than using absolute values. This is because if sometime later you change the cell value – the formula would automatically update.

How to add, subtract, multiply, and divide?

There are four basic mathematical operations – add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

Let’s now see how to perform each of these operations in Excel.

How to make a SUM formula (addition)

Adding things up in Excel can take different forms.

Excel has an in-built function for performing addition i.e. the SUM function. Here’s how you can bring it to action.

1. Write the SUM function beginning with an equal sign as follows.

= SUM (5, 5)

Every argument of the SUM function separated by a comma represents the value to be added.

Excel adds 5 into 5 to give the results below.

SUM adds values

Easy enough? You can use the SUM function for cell references too. 🤩

2. Write the SUM function as follows.

= SUM (A2, A3)

Pro Tip!

To insert SUM from the Insert Function button, take this route.

Go to Formulas tab > Function Library > Insert function button > Type the function name.

In the Insert Function dialog box, type SUM and hit search. Select the desired function and hit ‘Okay’ to insert the same.

Excel adds the cell values of Cell A2 and Cell A3.

SUM adds cell references

What makes the SUM function a big plus is its ability to add up a range of cells.

For example, see the data below.

Data in Excel

3. To add this up in Excel using the SUM function, write the SUM function as below.

= SUM (A2:A10)

SUM adds a range reference of cells

Must notice how we have defined the cell range from Cell A2 to Cell A10 as A2:A10.

4. Excel sums up all cell values in cells from A2 to A10.

SUM adds a range of cells

You can make this function work even more interestingly by adding up multiple ranges.

5. Write the SUM function with multiple ranges as follows.

= SUM (A2:A5, B2:B8, C1:C10)

 SUM adds ranges in Column B, Column C and Column A.

Here are the results.

SUM adds multiple different ranges

How to subtract in Excel

Subtracting in Excel is all about creating a formula with the minus sign operator (-).

For example:

1. To subtract 5 from 10, begin with an equal sign and write the following formula.

= 10 – 5

A simple subtraction formula with a minus sign operator!

Press enter and here you go.

Operating the subtraction formula

2. Try doing the same with cell references as below.

= A2 – A3

This formula translates to A2 less A3. Where A2 has the numeric value 10, and A3 has the numeric value 5.

Excel subtracts two cell references

3. Alternatively, you can use the SUM function to perform subtraction. However, to do this you need to add a minus sign to the value to be subtracted.

= SUM (A2, -A3)

Here are the results.

SUM subtracts a cell reference

How to multiply in Excel

After we have learned how to add and subtract in Excel, it’s time we learn multiplication in Excel.

First thing first, the operator for multiplication in Excel is an asterisk (*).

Now, do you remember what is 9 times 8? No?

1. Write a multiplication formula in Excel.

= 9 * 8

the multiplication formula in Excel

Excel multiples 9 and 8.

Excel multiplies 9 and 8

2. Try doing the same using cell references as below.

= A2 * A3

Multiplying two cell references

The formula above translates to A2 multiplied by A3.

Excel also offers an in-built function for multiplication in Excel. The PRODUCT Function!

3. Write the PRODUCT function as follows.

= PRODUCT (9, 8)

Multiplying two cell references

We have added both the values to be multiplied as the arguments to the PRODUCT function.

Here are the results.

Excel calculates the PRODUCT

The PRODUCT function can also find the product of multiple values (or a range of cells) at once.

For example, see the data below.

Range of values to be multiplied

4. To multiply all these values, write the PRODUCT function as follows:

= PRODUCT (A2:A10)

Range of values to be multiplied

Excel multiplies all the values in the specified range.

Excel multiplies the values in the specified range.

How to divide in Excel

Here comes the last operation of this guide – division. 🤞

Creating a division formula in Excel is also very straightforward.

What is the operator for division? A forward slash (/).

Also, the dividend (or the numerator) comes before the slash. And the divisor (or the denominator) comes after the slash.

Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist

1. Write a division formula as below.

= 30 / 10

Division formula in Excel

Excel divides both operands to give the results as follows.

Division operand

2. The same can be done using cell references.

= A2 / A3

Excel divides two cell references

Pro Tip!

While performing the division function in Excel, you might see the #DIV/0! Error. This error is given back by Excel when you attempt to divide the number of zero.

Basic Rule of Grade 6! No number is divisible by zero. Excel remembers that, if not us. 😆

Order of operations

Here’s an equation for you to solve.

= 2+ 4 * 6 / 3 – 2

What a mess! Which operation do you perform first?

To solve this mystery, there is an order for performing mathematical operations – PEMDAS

P = Parenthesis

E = Exponents

MD = Multiplication & Division (left to right)

AS = Addition & Subtraction

Solve the above equation in the same order, and you’d reach the answer 8.

Let Excel do the same to see the results.

 Opening parenthesis and closing parenthesis

Excel performs division first (6 / 3 = 2), multiplication second (4 * 2 = 8), addition third (2 + 8 = 10), and subtraction last (10 – 2 = 8), resulting in 8.

Now, let’s enclose a part of this formula in parentheses to see how the results change.

= 2+ 4 * 6 / (3 – 2)

 Opening parenthesis and closing parenthesis

What causes the results to change with only parenthesis added?

Excel now first performs the operation enclosed in parenthesis i.e. (3-2).

Next, multiplication is performed, then division and addition last. This causes the answer to change.

Pro Tip!

Try doing some mental maths to double-check if Excel has rightly calculated 26.

Parenthesis first = 2+ 4*6/(3 – 2)

Multiplication Second= 2+4*6/1

Division Third = 2 + 24/1

Addition Last = 2 + 24

Here’s the answer = 26

How to create formulas with references

Creating Excel formulas with references is super simple. All you need to do is replace the values in a simple formula with cell references (cells that contain those values).

For example, let’s create a multiplication formula in Excel.

multiplication formula in Excel

Great! What if you had 2 & 4 as numerical values in cells?

numeric values in cells

Create the same formula using cell references.

formula using cell references

You can do the same for all operators! It is this simple.

Also, what happens when a cell value changes? Until the cell reference is in place, the formula would automatically update for the cell value change.

Formula in Formula bar

Must note how the cell reference in the formula remains unchanged. The answer however changes as the cell value for A3 has changed.ltiple criteria lookup💡

Formulas or functions?

What is an Excel formula, and what is an Excel function? And how are these two different?

There are two ways to add 2 and 2 in Excel.

  1. = 2 + 2
  2. SUM (2,2)

The answer to them both would be the same. However, the first one is a formula created in Excel. Whereas the second one is an in-built function of Excel – the SUM function.

Functions are more like predefined formulas in Excel.

Although the function library of Microsoft Excel is huge enough for you to explore, there is a limit to it. And you may not find everything you need there.

So, you might still need to write your own formulas to perform calculations in Excel. 😉

Pro Tip!

Sometimes, you might even nest a function into a formula.

For example, what is 2 + 2 – 3?

You may write it as = (SUM (2,2)) – 3

SUM (2,2) is a function, and deducting 3 from it makes it a self-created formula.

That’s it – Now what?

Until now, we’ve created formulas using different operators, values, and cell references. And learned how to use the SUM function for addition and subtraction.

Not only that but we’ve also studied the order of operations in Excel. The above article is a whole pack of information, isn’t it?

Creating your own formulas in Excel is the first step to manipulating numbers in Excel. However, this is something very basic, and Excel has tons more to offer.

Some very important Excel functions that one must hone include the VLOOKUP, SUMIF, and IF functions.

Haven’t mastered them yet? Click here to register for my 30-minute free email course that helps you learn these and much more.

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