What Is a Spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel?

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An Excel spreadsheet can serve many purposes. In its simplest form, an Excel spreadsheet is a way to store rows and columns of data. But how you define it depends on your role in a workgroup and how you want to use Excel to fulfill a data processing need. An Excel spreadsheet could thus be a calculator, a chart maker, a program for statistical analysis, a database and many other tools. Understanding the different ways of defining "Excel spreadsheet" can help you use this resource more effectively.

Calculator

  • One of the simplest math operations you can do in an Excel spreadsheet is adding two numbers. Within cells you can enter an equation, such as one for adding two constants. You can also refer to other cells in these equations. For example, one cell might contain the formula "=A1+B2". This equation will contain the results of adding the numbers stored in cells A1 and B2. Note that these cells can themselves contain equations. To use an Excel spreadsheet as a calculator, you must tell Excel that the numbers you enter in a cell are numbers and not text. You indicate numbers by prefacing them with the "=" character.

Database

  • An Excel spreadsheet is a place to enter and manage your workteam's data. As you can in other database applications like Microsoft Access, you can create tables with multiple columns, each of which defines an aspect of the table. For example, you could create a database of famous artists, and list columns with names like "FirstName," "LastName," and "PaintingStyle." Excel's tools for managing the data you enter include the Sort and Filter commands and commands for summarizing several rows of data into one, such as summing all sales for a product to produce a monthly sales report.

Statistics

  • Scientists, teachers and other Excel users employ Excel spreadsheets to run statistical analyses on their data. One basic statistical calculation they perform is averaging a list of numbers, such as student scores. In an Excel spreadsheet, you can enter the student scores in a column, then type the formula "=average(A1:A10)," where "A1:A10" refers to the ten scores in the list. Excel will display the results of the "average" formula after you enter the formula in a cell. Other statistics formulas you can apply to data include the median, standard deviation, and maximum and minimum functions. If you don't see a formula you want, you can program it using Excel's programming language, Visual Basic for Applications.

Chart Maker

  • An Excel spreadsheet is a means to turn your numerical data into charts that help you visualize the information. Using Excel's chart-making tools can potentially reveal patterns that looking at a list of numbers won't reveal. Excel spreadsheets have a gallery containing many different chart types, including 3-D pie charts, bar charts, and scatter-plotted charts. When you change or add to the data to which a chart is linked, the chart will update automatically. You can export Excel's charts as graphics files to use in presentations, reports and other output formats.

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