What Is Excel? Basic Functions, Interface & Uses Explained

Excel is a software developed by the tech giant Microsoft which is a digital edition of a spreadsheet that people often use for inputting data, keeping records and calculating in the end.

Since it’s digital, the abilities of MS Excel have gone beyond the reach of imagination as this software can calculate, create graphic demonstrations, make tables and tons of other things with its functions that make computing easier than ever.

With only a few presses on the buttons, difficult outcomes, analysis and visual overviews are generated that not only saves time, but also makes concepts more comprehensive than they would be on paper.

MS Excel can be run on different operating systems like Microsoft Windows, iOS, Android and macOS. Any degree of competence is enough to start off with MS Excel, the most basic users can use it as a data entry software while the more advanced users generate analysis with VBA.

After having all these said and done, this article today aims at introducing you to the most basic features and the Excel interface so that you can gather functional knowledge and start using the software without any secondary help!

History Of Microsoft Excel: Years Of Development

History of Microsoft Excel

The journey of MS Excel through history is quite a remarkable one and it wasn’t the unbeaten, uncontested champion at all times like it is today.

Excel was introduced to the consumers by Microsoft back in 1982. It didn’t take over immediately as there were better alternatives at that time and the MS-DOS version didn’t really stick the landing.

Lotus 1-2-3 has been the more preferred spreadsheet software at that time and the main competitor for MS Excel.

But with development on the motion, Excel v2.0 in 1988 was complimented exceptionally well by the QuatroPro which had it peak at the top of the spreadsheet contest.

And when Microsoft launched their Windows OS and included Excel v5.0 in 1993, it outshone every other spreadsheet app due to the inclusion of VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).

With different macros, Excel became a spreadsheet with endless possibilities and capabilities that no other app of that genre would even dare to compete with.

Over the years, Excel has arrived hand in hand with the Windows systems from the year 1995 up until Windows 11 where it’s built-in into the Office 365 suite.

Main MS Excel Features

Main MS Excel Features

From all the Excel features, I have divided them into three broad categories so that it helps you to identify the nature of this software’s work and make distinctions from one to the other.

Database

Generally, in many offices MS Excel is used as the digital version of a hard spreadsheet copy. Officers input information and maintain it as a database for the company to keep records and draw them out in the future when the occasion calls for it. This is one of the main Excel features for which thousands of employees use it everyday.

Functional

Functional features include the formulas, commands, calculations and other numeric, analytic and sorting functions that are integral part of MS Excel. Researchers, data analysts or anyone else who would want something more than just databases out of Excel, the functional use is the immediate next thing that becomes necessary.

Graphical

The graphical features mostly surround the graphs and charts that illustrate numerical data for a better understanding. Oftentimes we aren’t able to grasp something when there’s tons of numbers to scroll through as our brain starts auto-rejecting them. But with graphical demonstrations in MS Excel, it offers us one of the finest ways of understanding data and its analysis in the fastest possible way.

Who Is Excel For?

Who Is Excel For

Excel is for a wide range of consumers, starting from daily office data entry to research field officers who collect data on a regular basis for further analysis. Students, teachers, officials, business personnels – everyone finds their use of Excel one way or another. Let me break it down for you.

Students

Students use MS Excel from time to time basically as a skill development lesson. Having sound Excel knowledge paves the way for future official works slightly easier than not having any idea about it at all.

In educational institutions, students are taught about the basic functions and are taught to think creatively to find effective solutions other than the usual orthodox ones.

Data Collectors

Although Excel isn’t extensively used in the field for directly data collecting, it’s the app that every collector uses to input their collected data for further sorting and storing. While manual spreadsheets aren’t exactly the tools for data analysis, Excel does that work perfectly in the shortest possible time!

Teachers

Most of the educational institution teachers confide in MS Excel to keep track of student attendance and their mark sheet preparation. With the features and summation formulas of Excel, calculating and preparing mark sheets has never been easier.

With a well-prepared Excel template, a teacher can simply input the marks from the copies that he or she has checked, and Excel will accumulate all sorts of results for them.

Excel can also visually demonstrate the marks variance between all the students if the marks have been inserted into the sheets. It can tell the teachers which course the students are struggling in and which they are flourishing in a matter of seconds!

Officials

In a corporate firm, be that a business or any other form of company, use of Excel is of utmost importance as it’s connected to almost all the tasks in hand. From quarterly review to yearly analysis of growth, Excel is something that remains irreplaceable till date.

That’s why many job circulars make it essential for applicants to have a sound knowledge about MS Excel because this skill keeps coming back as a highly-necessary one at every step, one way or another.

10 Basic Functions Of Excel

Basic Functions of Excel

Given below are 10 of the most basic Excel functions that you must learn at some point in your Excel learning curve to master the system.

SUM

The =SUM() feature does what it sounds like – it generates a summation. Within the brackets, the cell number range must be dictated in order to get the outcome. Plus, minus, subtract, multiply – all of these can be performed within the SUM() area from one cell range to another.

AVERAGE

AVERAGE() is very straightforward and it too computes the name it stands for: it creates an average between a range of numbers. Within the brackets, the cell range must be placed with commas or a colon and hitting enter will accumulate the result in the blink of an eye!

COUNT

If you need to count how many cells within a selected area consist of a number, then the COUNT command is your way to go. Simply highlight the cell where you want your count numbers to show up and within the brackets select your cell area of which you require the count. It’s that easy!

CONCATENATE

This command in Excel is used as a text string merger. If there are different texts spread across a wide variety of cells all over the spreadsheet, this command along with selection of those cells will combine them together into one text line.

MODULUS

While dividing a number, there often generates a remainder. For instance, if 12 is divided by 5, the remainder would be 2. MODULUS function calculates just that. Between cells, between a cell and a number or between two numbers – this function will offer you the remainder.

REPLACE

The REPLACE function is similar to the replace feature built into the MS Office system. This command system however allows users to replace a certain text string with another, regardless of the position of that text. The old and new text strings are to be written down between the brackets and separated by a comma for this to work.

VLOOKUP

VLOOKUP is the shortened form of vertical look up and it does what it sounds like, to some extent. What this function does is, it takes up the left-most column and finds out values that are searched for. There are certain VLOOKUP commands that enable the users to refine their search and get desired outcomes.

What is Excel

HLOOKUP

HLOOKUP is much like the VLOOKUP, except it works on the horizontal lines of an Excel spreadsheet. Other than the orientation, the function and commands are exactly the same and it generates outcomes at the same degree of depth.

IF Formula

The IF formula is one of the most useful functions that Excel has ever included into their system. This formula allows the users to apply a conditional node to the sorting system that makes filtering significantly easy. Using threads like TRUE, FALSE or other conditions that can be implemented into the command, users can formulate unique outcomes that probably would take months to perform without this formula.

TODAY

The TODAY function is straightforward as its name. Using this function, users can input the full date of that specific day into the Excel sheet without having to type the entire thing out manually. There are similar DAY, MONTH, TIME functions as well that serve the purpose of their names.

Introducing the Excel Interface

Introducing the Excel Interface

The excel interface requires some familiarization to be fully able to work with efficiently. This portion introduces the users with the basic areas that need to be memorized immediately. Connect the numbered marks with the explanation right below to properly comprehend the work-area and be able to reach for the right zones without having to search for it.

Ribbon

Ribbon is the top portion of the MS Excel interface that’s marked in the picture. The Ribbon area contains Ribbon tabs like Home, Insert, Data etc. The Ribbon group refers to the small groups that contain certain actions, groups like Alignment, Number, Style etc. and each of these groups are formed with Ribbon controls – the specific buttons that perform those actions.

Worksheet

Worksheet or spreadsheet is the open cellular sheet that you see right after opening Excel. The sheet numbers are displayed at the bottom left corner of your screen and it can be altered between or generated a new one from that control area.

Name Box

Once you select or highlight a cell, at the top right that cell number is displayed. That area can be worked with either way, like you can input your desired cell number inside that box and it’ll take you directly to that cell. That writing area is called the Name Box.

Cell

Much like our body, a cell is the most basic organism of MS Excel. The small boxes that Excel is composed of, and each of them are used to input data and be calculated inside.

Row

At the very left, there are numbers that flow vertically from 1 to infinity. Each of those numbers represents a row that spreads horizontally from A to Z.

Column

Columns are represented by the alphabets at the top between A to Z. Each of these columns flow vertically from top to bottom.

Zoom/Scroll Control

At the bottom right of Excel, that area contains the Zoom bar that helps users to zoom in or out of a spreadsheet. The scroll control allows gliding horizontally from one side to the other.

Formula Bar

Formula bar is directly connected to the selected cell inside the spreadsheet. Using this bar, users can apply different functions or formulas within the selected cell area to generate faster results.

Quick Access Bar

At the top left where the Microsoft logo or Files tab is named, the area right beneath is the quick access bar. It helps the users to make short actions like saving, undoing, redoing without having to go to the ribbons area.

Title Bar

The title bar is at the top of the Excel app where the name of the workbook is displayed. The title bar tells you the name of the project that you’re working on.

Advanced Excel Abilities

Excel goes way beyond the basic or common features with the advanced abilities that make spreadsheet tasks significantly easier. These functions must be acquired as skills and practices to perfection. Once you get the hang of these, you’ll be able to find unique angles to solve analytic problems. Some of the advanced Excel features are:

  • Removing duplicates
  • Pivot table
  • Importing statistical data from external sources
  • Fuzzy matching
  • Restricting & protecting data in Excel
  • Check accessibility tool and adding alternate texts

There are tons more advanced features as such in Excel. Stick to our website to gain further knowledge on each of them.

Benefits Of Using Excel

There are certain benefits to using Excel that aids in our daily tasks at separate occasions. Some of these benefits are highlighted in this section.

Helps You Organize

Excel allows you to organize your data, number or any other information in the most pattern-oriented way. Unlike manual spreadsheets, you get the chance to simply press ctrl+F to search any keyword you want on your entire sheet and replace them with the word of your choice.

Locking the rows or columns lets you make your template into a permanent foundation for further data to be inserted in it in the future. Labeling, locking, color-coding rows and columns makes the organizing more visually responsive and easily identifiable.

Provides Analysis for Understanding

Excel not only stores or organizes data, rather it goes to the extent of analyzing it further. With the help of pie charts, bar graphs or similar illustrators or even the pivot table, visualizing data has changed the way we perceive our numeric or data centric problems.

Keeps Track of Record

Record-keeping is another challenging aspect for many organizations and Excel helps out in this matter as a savior. Every record can be stored in an Excel sheet in the most organized and trusting manner. Over time, these records can be tracked, analyzed and visualized to observe which direction the growth (or the opposite) is flowing.

Calculates Efficiently

Excel works way better than just a calculator to accumulate the desired numeric result. For instance, to calculate an average one must add all the numbers manually in a calculator and divide the sum total with the total number. But in Excel, you can simply select a blank cell, input the ‘average’ command where you’ll dictate the cell range for your result and hit ‘enter’ to immediately receive the result!

This simply is one of the many ways Excel can be used for efficient calculating without having to go through the one-by-one number inputting into the calculator.

Automates Complex Calculation/Analysis Procedures

There are certain scripts in the Visual Basic for Applications that an advanced Excel user must learn to make life much easier. There are specific tasks regarding calculation or analysis that require frequent repetition.

With a well-made VBA macro, you can literally get away with one command that’ll do all the odd jobs for you. This is where skill level varies between regular Excel users to master Excel users. Ones carrying such a degree of skill in Excel are usually paid at a higher grade in most offices.

MS Excel Alternatives

Although Excel is an all-encompassing software that serves every purpose, there are a few alternatives that can get the basic jobs done if you’re in a hurry and don’t have access to Excel. Not frequently though, still these apps substitute MS Excel in many office spaces due to their nature.

  • Google Sheets
  • Zoho Sheet
  • Apache OpenOffice Calc
  • LibreOffice Calc
  • Scoro
  • ThinkFree

These apps do provide alternatives to Excel, but MS Excel isn’t really replaceable and you’ll realize it once you get deeper into this extraordinary software.

Thoughts

While the entire world’s work culture can’t pass a single day without MS Excel’s presence in their flow of work, it’s high time you learned everything about this software.

Starting from the basics is the best approach you can take to familiarize yourself with Excel, and this article has done just that.

If you’ve scrolled through each of the sections carefully, you can now call yourself someone with basic Excel knowledge and acquaintance with the interface.

Keep on exploring our Excel articles, see how we tackle every challenge and use functions to solve problems that may arise or simply learn the day-to-day tasks completion.

With perseverance, you’ll call yourself a master Excel user in less than no time and without having to attend any paid courses!

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