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Excel for Beginners: Where to Start

If you’ve never used Microsoft Excel before, you’re in for a big treat! This program has many uses. But learning to use it proficiently can seem daunting at first, so we’ve created this Excel for Beginners article to help you out as you plunge into the exciting world of spreadsheets!

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Microsoft Excel is a software application and a part of Microsoft Office Suite. It is comprised of spreadsheets with various rows and columns, which allow the user to store data as per your requirements. These days, many jobs demand fundamental Excel skills.

Fundamental skills in Excel are often required to land jobs, as they help increase productivity. Some of those skills are:

  • Understanding and using menu commands
  • Handling and formatting information
  • Use of elementary mathematical formulas
  • Highlighting and examining data based on a problem
  • Representing data using charts
  • Understanding keyboard shortcuts and tricks

Microsoft Excel can help you facilitate data manipulations. It has a variety of functions to simplify statistical, engineering, and financial needs. Moreover, it can exhibit data as line graphs, histograms, and charts through three- dimensional graphics, which can greatly enhance the presentation of reports.

The analysis of data becomes simple as MS Excel sections data to view its dependence on different variables. Visual Basic for applications (another programming element of MS Excel), permits a user to benefit from the wide variety of numerical strategies. For example, it can represent a physical process through a differential equation and then equate the outcome back to the spreadsheet.

How to Start MS Excel

To start MS Excel through Windows Start menu:

  1. Go to “START”
  2. Select “All Programs”
  3. Click on “Microsoft Office”
  4. Choose “Microsoft Excel”
  5. A new blank worksheet appears

First Look at MS Excel Worksheet

Following are the main areas on a blank worksheet:

  • Quick Access Toolbar: This is the place where all critical tools are located, and it can be customized as per your requirements. By default, it consists of only three icons – Save, Undo, and Redo. But one can easily access the required tool anytime by placing it on the toolbar, hence getting its name – Quick Access Toolbar.
  • Ribbon: This is an extended menu which contains all Excel options in a convenient way. Ribbons group all the features of Excel, thereby improving its adaptability. Home, Insert, Data, Page Layout & Formulas are some of the most important ribbons.
  • Formula Bar: This is a toolbar at the top of an MS Excel sheet that can be used to enter an existing formula into a cell. Complicated formulas can also be solved with the help of the Formula toolbar.
  • Spreadsheet: This is the main framework of workbook where all numbers, data, charts, and drawings appear. Each MS Excel file contains multiple sheets. However, the spreadsheet grid displays only one active spreadsheet at a time. Scroll bars, placed on the left or bottom of the active screen, can be used to access further rows and columns of an active spreadsheet. Other sheets can be accessed by clicking the name of the sheet at the bottom of the page.
  • Status Bar: It displays the task which is active at a particular time in MS Excel, for example, one can easily know whether it’s performing the calculation as per the formula or creating a report/graph or recording manipulations. It also displays a quick summary of selected cells like sum, count, average, and max and min values. These can be displayed by right-clicking the bar and selecting respective summaries.

Entering Data in a Spreadsheet

Data can be entered into a cell by just selecting it and typing in your data. The Formula bar shows the content written in the cell. Cell contents can be edited through the Formula bar or by directly changing it within the cell.

To edit from formula bar:

  1. Select the cell
  2. Click on Formula Bar
  3. Edit the content
  4. Press the Enter key or click on another cell

To edit directly within the cell:

  1. Double-click on the cell, or
  2. Select the cell and then press F2 key.

Each cell has a definite format. A cell’s format allows you to change the way data appears on your spreadsheet. Cell contents and a cell’s format are different from each other.

For example, let’s say that you enter 6.7521 in a cell, but the cell was formatted to display only two decimal places. Excel will show 6.75 in that worksheet cell. Despite this, Excel will still perform any subsequent calculations with the real cell value that you entered, that is, 6.7521.

Calculations in Excel

Basic mathematical operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, averages, and square roots can be performed using formulas in a spreadsheet. Without formulas, Excel would be like an enormous grid where you can keep data, but it is nearly useless. So formulas are your best friend when using Excel!

You start writing a formula by = (equal to) sign, followed by the remaining part. Excel assumes that you are either writing a number or text if you don’t type the = (equal to) sign first.

Formatting the Cells

Microsoft Excel allows you to change data appearance in a cell. For example, you can specify the number of digits to the right of a decimal point, or you can add any pattern or border (or both) to the cell. Most of these formatting tools can be accessed through the Format Cells dialogue Box.

Lock Cell and Protect Spreadsheet

There are two steps to preventing important cell content from being accidentally overwritten or deleted. These are:

  1. Lock the cell
  2. Make the worksheet protected

If you have any previous records or complicated formulas which you do not want to lose, you should definitely examine which cells to lock and which worksheets to shield. Data does get lost, so protect yourself as you see fit.

Sorting Data

  1. Select a range of data, preferably that you created to recognize columns or rows, such as A1: M5 (multiple rows and columns) or C1: C81 (a single column).
  2. Select a single cell in the column that you want to sort.
  3. Select ascending order button to perform an ascending sort (A to Z or smallest number to largest). You can select descending order button to perform a descending sort (Z to A or largest number to smallest).

Saving the Spreadsheet

  1. Click on the Save button from the Quick Access Toolbar, or press Ctrl+S.
  2. Select the location where you want to save the spreadsheet, and then browse to a folder.
  3. In the File name box, enter a name for your spreadsheet.
  4. Click on Save.

I hope that the above introduction helped you. Microsoft Excel is an essential skill for every professional in the 21st Century. So if you have patiently read and practiced the information in this article then congratulations—you have earned yourself one more professional skill!

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