1. Overview of Microsoft Excel


This chapter provides an overview of the Excel application along with an orientation for accessing the commands and features of an Excel workbook.

Making Decisions with Excel

Taking a very simple view, Excel is a tool that allows you to enter quantitative data into an electronic spreadsheet to apply one or many mathematical computations. These computations ultimately convert that quantitative data into information. The information produced in Excel can be used to make decisions in both professional and personal contexts. For example, employees can use Excel to determine how much inventory to buy for a clothing retailer, how much medication to administer to a patient, or how much money to spend to stay within a budget. With respect to personal decisions, you can use Excel to determine how much money you can spend on a house, how much you can spend on car lease payments, or how much you need to save to reach your retirement goals. We will demonstrate how you can use Excel to make these decisions and many more throughout this text.

Worksheet with centered title, entries for columns titled Month, Unit Sales, Average Price, and Sales Dollars. Total sales calculated in bottom row.
Figure 1.1 Example of an Excel Worksheet

Figure 1.1 shows a completed Excel worksheet that will be constructed in this chapter. The information shown in this worksheet contains sales data for a hypothetical merchandise retail company. The worksheet data can help a retailer analyze the business and determine the number of salespeople needed for each month for example.

Starting Excel

  1. Locate Excel on your computer.
  2. Click Microsoft Excel to launch the Excel application where you are presented with workbook options to help get you started.
  3. Click the first option; “Blank Workbook”.

Excel for Windows vs Excel for Mac

The Excel for Windows and Excel for Mac software versions are very similar. Most of the features, tools and commands are available in both versions. There are, however, some differences with the Excel interface. There are also a few features that are not available in the Excel for Mac version. The screenshots and step-by-step instructions in this textbook are specific to Excel for Windows. We have attempted to provide alternate screenshots and instructions for the Mac version when the differences are significant. When you see this icon Excel for Mac icon, it means we are providing information specific to Mac users.

The Excel Workbook

A workbook is an Excel file that contains one or more worksheets (referred to as spreadsheets). Excel will assign a file name to the workbook, such as Book1, Book2, Book3, and so on, depending on how many new workbooks are opened. Figure 1.2 shows a blank workbook after starting Excel. Take some time to familiarize yourself with this screen. Your screen may be slightly different based on the version you’re using.

Figure 1.2 Blank Workbook

Figure 1.2a Blank Workbook (right-side)

Your workbook should already be maximized (or shown at full size) once Excel is started, as shown in Figure 1.2. However, if your screen looks like Figure 1.3 after starting Excel, you should click the Maximize button, as shown in the figure.
Maximize icon, workbook title in top left-hand corner not top center as in Figure 1.2.
Figure 1.3 Restored Worksheet

Navigating Worksheets

Data are entered and managed in an Excel worksheet. The worksheet contains several rectangles called cells for entering numeric and non-numeric data. Each cell in an Excel worksheet contains an address, which is defined by a column letter followed by a row number. For example, the cell that is currently activated in Figure 1.3 is A1. This would be referred to as cell location A1 or cell reference A1. The following steps explain how you can navigate in an Excel worksheet:
  1. Place your mouse pointer over cell D5 and click.
  2. Check to make sure column letter D and row number 5 are highlighted, as shown in Figure 1.4.
Bold outline D5 cell activated.
Figure 1.4 Activating a Cell Location

  1. Move the mouse pointer to cell A1.
  2. Click and hold the left mouse button and drag the mouse pointer back to cell D5.
  3. Release the left mouse button. You should see several cells highlighted, as shown in Figure 1.5.
This is referred to as a cell range and is documented as follows: A1:D5. Any two cell locations separated by a colon are known as a cell range. The first cell is the top left corner of the range, and the second cell is the lower right corner of the range.
Cell range A1:D5 is highlighted. Multiple worksheet tabs featured at bottom. Shift F11 adds new worksheet to workbook.
Figure 1.5 Highlighting a Range of Cells
  1. At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see a sheet tab indicated by “Sheet1″. Clicking on the + adds additional worksheets. This is how you open or add a worksheets within a workbook. To see how this works, click on the + to add another worksheet so that you now have two sheets
  2. Click the Sheet1 worksheet tab at the bottom of the worksheet to return to the worksheet shown in Figure 1.5.

The Excel Ribbon

Excel’s features and commands are found in the Ribbon, which is the upper area of the Excel screen that contains several tabs running across the top. Each tab provides access to a different set of Excel commands. Figure 1.6 shows the commands available in the Home tab of the Ribbon. Table 1.1 “Command Overview for Each Tab of the Ribbon” provides an overview of the commands that are found in each tab of the Ribbon.

                                                                                    Figure 1.6 Home Tab of Ribbon

Excel for Mac icon The Excel for Mac ribbon, as shown in Figure 1.6a below, has two primary differences:

  • The older dropdown menu structure is still available with Excel for Mac.
  • The specific commands and tools within each tab are slightly different between the two Excel Ribbons. Some of the commands found within the Excel for Windows Ribbon tabs are located within the dropdown menu structure in the Excel for Mac version. So, if you can’t find the tool on the Excel for Mac Ribbon, then try to find the tool by looking through the dropdown menu instead.

Figure 1.6a Home tab of Excel for Mac Ribbon with dropdown menu structure

Group Title Names on the Ribbon

If you look closely at the Excel Ribbon (See Figure 1.6 above), you will see that the Ribbon is separated in groups of tool buttons, and each group has a title name. On Home tab, the group title names are “Clipboard”, “Font”, “Alignment”, “Number”, “Styles”. “Cells”, “Editing”, etc. The tool buttons within each group are all related to the group title.

Excel for Mac icon Mac Users Only: The default “View” for the Excel for Mac ribbon does not display these “group title names”. Notice in Figure 1.6a above, there are no group title names. It is a good idea to change this “view” so you can see the group title names. Here are the steps:

  1. Click the “Excel” menu option at top left above the Ribbon
  2. Choose “Preferences”
  3. Click the “View” button
  4. Scroll down and check the box for “Group Titles”
  5. Close the “View” dialog box. The group title names should now display as shown in Figure 1.6 (not Figure 1.6a) above
Table 1.1 Command Overview for Each Tab of the Ribbon
Tab Name Description of Commands
File Also known as the Backstage view of the Excel workbook. Contains all commands for opening, closing, saving, and creating new Excel workbooks. Includes print commands, document properties, e-mailing options, and help features. The default settings and options are also found in this tab.
Home Contains the most frequently used Excel commands. Formatting commands are found in this tab along with commands for cutting, copying, pasting, and for inserting and deleting rows and columns.
Insert Used to insert objects such as charts, pictures, shapes, PivotTables, Internet links, symbols, or text boxes.
Page Layout Contains commands used to prepare a worksheet for printing. Also includes commands used to show and print the gridlines on a worksheet.
Formulas Includes commands for adding mathematical functions to a worksheet. Also contains tools for auditing mathematical formulas.
Data Used when working with external data sources such as Microsoft Access, text files, or the Internet. Also contains sorting commands and access to scenario tools.
Review Includes Spelling and Track Changes features. Also contains protection features to password protect worksheets or workbooks.
View Used to adjust the visual appearance of a workbook. Common commands include the Zoom and Page Layout view.
Help This tab provides access to help and support features such as contacting Microsoft support, sending feedback, suggesting a new feature, and community discussion groups. Excel for Mac iconThis tab is not available with Excel for Mac.
Draw Provides drawing options for using a digital pen, mouse or finger depending on the type of device (laptop with touch screen, tablet, computer, etc). This tab is not visible by default. See below on how to customize the Ribbon to add or remove tabs.
Developer Provides access to some advanced features such as macros, form controls, and XML commands. This tab is not visible by default. See below on how to customize the Ribbon to add or remove tabs.

The Ribbon shown in Figure 1.6 and Figure 1.6a (above) is full, or maximized. The benefit of having a full Ribbon is that the commands are always visible while you are developing a worksheet. However, depending on the screen dimensions of your computer, you may find that the Ribbon takes up too much vertical space on your worksheet. If this is the case, you can minimize the Ribbon by clicking the button shown in Figure 1.6. When minimized, the Ribbon will show only the tabs and not the command buttons. When you click on a tab, the command buttons will appear until you select a command or click anywhere on your worksheet.

Excel for Mac icon To hide the Ribbon with Excel for Mac you can use the keyboard shortcut:

Hold down the “Command and Option” keys and tap the “R” key

The same keyboard shortcut will unhide the Ribbon as well.

How to Customize the Excel Ribbon

Here are the steps to add additional tabs to the Excel Ribbon

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options
  2. Click on “Customize Ribbon” at the left side of the Options screen
  3. Click the checkbox next to the Tab name that you want to add (See Figure 1.7 below)

Figure 1.7 Customize the Ribbon Dialog Box