How To Use Excel:
A Beginner’s Guide To Getting Started

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

Excel is a powerful application—but it can also be very intimidating.

That’s why we’ve put together this beginner’s guide to getting started with Excel.

It will take you from the very beginning (opening a spreadsheet), through entering and working with data, and finish with saving and sharing.

It’s everything you need to know to get started with Excel.

Get your FREE exercise file

If you’d like to use a spreadsheet for practice, download our free example workbook below.

Feel free to follow along with your own spreadsheet, though, if you’d prefer!

Download the FREE Exercise File

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Download free exercise file

Opening a spreadsheet

When you first open Excel (by double-clicking the icon or selecting it from the Start menu), the application will ask what you want to do.

excel-open

If you want to open a new spreadsheet, click Blank workbook.

To open an existing spreadsheet (like the example workbook you just downloaded), click Open Other Workbooks in the lower-left corner, then click Browse on the left side of the resulting window.

excel-open

Then use the file explorer to find the workbook you’re looking for, select it, and click Open.

Workbooks vs. spreadsheets

There’s something we should clear up before we move on.

A workbook is an Excel file. It usually has a file extension of .XLSX (if you’re using an older version of Excel, it could be .XLS).

A spreadsheet is a single sheet inside a workbook. There can be many sheets inside of a workbook, and they’re accessed via the tabs at the bottom of the screen.

Working with the Ribbon

The Ribbon is the central control panel of Excel. You can do just about everything you need to directly from the Ribbon.

Where is this powerful tool? At the top of the window:

ribbon

There are a number of tabs, including Home, Insert, Data, Review, and a few others. Each tab contains different buttons.

Try clicking on a few different tabs to see which buttons appear below them.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

There’s also a very useful search bar in the Ribbon. It says Tell me what you want to do. Just type in what you’re looking for, and Excel will help you find it.

ribbon-search

Most of the time, you’ll be in the Home tab of the Ribbon. But Formulas and Data are also very useful (we’ll be talking about formulas shortly).

Pro tip: Ribbon sections

In addition to tabs, the Ribbon also has some smaller sections. And when you’re looking for something specific, those sections can help you find it.

For example, if you’re looking for sorting and filtering options, you don’t want to hover over dozens of buttons finding out what they do.

Instead, skim through the section names until you find what you’re looking for:

ribbon-section

Managing your sheets

As we saw, workbooks can contain multiple sheets.

You can manage those sheets with the sheet tabs near the bottom of the screen. Click a tab to open that particular worksheet.

If you’re using our example workbook, you’ll see two sheets, called Welcome and Thank You:

sheet-tabs

To add a new worksheet, click the + (plus) button at the end of the list of sheets.

You can also reorder the sheets in your workbook by dragging them to a new location.

And if you right-click a worksheet tab, you’ll get a number of options:

sheet-tab-options

For now, don’t worry too much about these options. Rename and Delete are useful, but the rest needn’t concern you.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Entering data

Now it’s time to enter some data!

And while entering data is one of the most central and important things you can do in Excel, it’s almost effortless.

Just click into a blank cell and start typing.

Go ahead, try it! Type your name, birthday, and your favorite number into some blank cells.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

You can also copy (Ctrl + C), cut (Ctrl + X), and paste (Ctrl + V) any data you’d like (or read our full guide on copying and pasting here).

Try copying and pasting the data from the example spreadsheet into another column.

copy-paste

You can also copy data from other programs into Excel.

Try copying this list of numbers and pasting it into your sheet:

  • 17
  • 24
  • 9
  • 00
  • 3
  • 12

That’s all we’re going to cover for basic data entry. Just know that there are lots of other ways to get data into your spreadsheets if you need them.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Basic calculations

Now that we’ve seen how to get some basic data into our spreadsheet, we’re going to do some things with it.

Running basic calculations in Excel is easy. First, we’ll look at how to add two numbers.

Important: start calculations with = (equals)

When you’re running a calculation (or a formula, which we’ll discuss next), the first thing you need to type is an equals sign. This tells Excel to get ready to run some sort of calculation.

So when you see something like =MEDIAN(A2:A51), make sure you type it exactly as it is—including the equals sign.

Let’s add 3 and 4. Type the following formula in a blank cell:

=3+4

Then hit Enter.

addition

When you hit Enter, Excel evaluates your equation and displays the result, 7.

But if you look above at the formula bar, you’ll still see the original formula.

That’s a useful thing to keep in mind, in case you forget what you typed originally.

You can also edit a cell in the formula bar. Click on any cell, then click into the formula bar and start typing.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Performing subtraction, multiplication, and division is just as easy. Try these formulas:

  • =4-6
  • =2*5
  • =-10/3

What we’re going to cover next is one of the most important things in Excel. We’re giving it a very basic overview here, but feel free to read our post on cell references to get the details.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Now let’s try something different. Open up the first sheet in the example workbook, click into cell C1, and type the following:

=A1+B1

Hit Enter.

You should get 82, the sum of the numbers in cells A1 and B1.

Now, change one of the numbers in A1 or B1 and watch what happens:

auto-update

Because you’re adding A1 and B1, Excel automatically updates the total when you change the values in one of those cells.

Try doing different types of arithmetic on the other numbers in columns A and B using this method.

Unlocking the power of functions

Excel’s greatest power lies in functions. These let you run complex calculations with a few keypresses.

We’ll barely scratch the surface of functions here. Check out our other blog posts to see some of the great things you can do with functions!

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Many formulas take sets of numbers and give you information about them.

For example, the AVERAGE function gives you the average of a set of numbers. Let’s try using it.

Click into an empty cell and type the following formula:

=AVERAGE(A1:A4)

Then hit Enter.

average-function

The resulting number, 0.25, is the average of the numbers in cells A1, A2, A3, and A4.

Cell range notation

In the formula above, we used “A1:A4” to tell Excel to look at all the cells between A1 and A4, including both of those cells. You can read it as “A1 through A4.”

You can also use this to include numbers in different columns. “A5:C7” includes A5, A6, A7, B5, B6, B7, C5, C6, and C7.

There are also functions that work on text.

Let’s try the CONCATENATE function!

Click into cell C5 and type this formula:

=CONCATENATE(A5, ” “, B5)

Then hit Enter.

You’ll see the message “Welcome to Spreadsheeto” in the cell.

How did this happen? CONCATENATE takes cells with text in them and puts them together.

We put the contents of A5 and B5 together. But because we also needed a space between “to” and “Spreadsheeto,” we included a third argument: the space between two quotes.

Remember that you can mix cell references (like “A5″) and typed values (like ” “) in formulas.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Excel has dozens of useful functions. To find the function that will solve a particular problem, head to the Formulas tab and click on one of the icons:

formulas-tab

Scroll through the list of available functions, and select the one you want (you may have to look around for a while).

Then Excel will help you get the right numbers in the right places:

function-arguments

If you start typing a formula, starting with the equals sign, Excel will help you by showing you some possible functions that you might be looking for:

recommend-functions

And finally, once you’ve typed the name of a formula and the opening parenthesis, Excel will tell you which arguments need to go where:

argument-reminder

If you’ve never used a function before, it might be difficult to interpret Excel’s reminders. But once you get more experience, it’ll become clear.

This is a tiny preview of how functions work and what they can do. It should be enough to get you going on the tasks you need to accomplish right away.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Saving and sharing your work

After you’ve done a bunch of work with your spreadsheet, you’re going to want to save your changes.

Hit Ctrl + S to save. If you haven’t yet saved your spreadsheet, you’ll be asked where you want to save it and what you want to call it.

You can also click the Save button in the Quick Access Toolbar:

save-qat

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of saving often. Trying to recover unsaved changes is a pain!

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

The easiest way to share your spreadsheets is via OneDrive.

Click the Share button in the top-right corner of the window, and Excel will walk you through sharing your document.

share-cloud

You can also save your document and email it, or use any other cloud service to share it with others.

Welcome to Excel

Excel can be intimidating, but once you get the basics down, it’s easier to learn the more advanced functions.

Want more?

Then go sign up for our free training now (it’s perfect for beginners).

Want a complete step-by-step blueprint?

Zero to Hero transforms you from beginner to superuser in just 14 hours. Click here to read more!

2018-11-22T10:05:02+00:00