Why Use Microsoft Excel? Need a reason to use Excel?!

Excel.

Chances are, that word alone stirs visions of lengthy spreadsheets and budgets with complicated formulas and charts.

It is true—Excel has become the standard in offices for pretty much anything that requires management of large amounts of data.

But, if you think Excel is only good for making you cross-eyed while looking at a bunch of numbers and financial reports, think again. There are tons of uses for Excel in business and at home.

Numbers floating off of a spreadsheet.

The problem is that when people are asked to find a use for it outside of business or number crunching, most people are stumped.

I teach an Excel class at a community college and I get students who say they hope they don’t forget what they have learned.

Maybe you learned a little bit of Excel at work and you want to get better at it, but you can’t think of a reason to use Excel.

One thing I usually recommend is create a personal budget. But using Excel, doesn’t always have to involve numbers. When you have data, any data, use Excel to store it. One of Excel’s simplest yet most fundamental abilities is organizing data.

You can create:

  • Grocery lists
  • Inventory
  • Budget plans
  • Expense tracking
  • Vacation schedule
  • Trip planner
  • Tracking birthdays and anniversaries

You don’t have to have a lot of data to use Excel.

Of course, there are plenty of fancy apps and tools out there to help you do a lot of what I just mentioned. But, if you want to become really good with Excel, then you need to use Excel.  

A passion of mine is cycling. I ride almost year-round. I have a few different bikes and I have to keep them maintained. What does that have to do with Excel?

I keep a very simply log of my bicycle maintenance. I track the date, which bike, what the maintenance was or the purchase made, cost and who performed the maintenance.

Really the purpose of this spreadsheet is so I can remember what I did with what bike. Because I am tracking this information in Excel there are some basic tasks I can do with this data, such as

  • Sort and Filter
  • Using the SUM function to see what my total expenses have been
  • Rename a worksheet
  • Add borders and fill colors
  • Use the Sumif and Countif functions
  • Create charts

Watch the video on my YouTube Channel.

Freeze Columns and Rows in Excel

My years working as an IT trainer, I’ve helped with many issues. One of the most common had to do with data entry and knowing what heading (column) the data was being added to.  

My office had a conference table that could seat 4 people comfortably. I often had what I would call “open project days.” Anyone could come in on those days and work on their Excel project and I was there to answer any questions. Sometimes people just used this to get away from their desks, but I never went through one of those days without being of some assistance. It usually did not happen in the form of a question, but rather an exclamation of frustration.
Jeanie mumbled “There are so many date columns, I can’t remember what goes where.”
“Do you not have headings?” I questioned, misunderstanding.
“Of course, I have headings, but when I scroll down to enter data, I can’t see my heading,” she responded in a frustrated tone.
“I have a cure for that,” I said as I walked over.

Here is what I showed Jeanie to make her data entry a little easier – Freeze Panes

Freeze panes allows you to lock specific rows and columns so that they will always be visible on screen no matter how far you scroll to the right or down.

From the View Tab – Freeze Panes

From the drop down menu you have three selections: Freeze Panes, Freeze Top Row and Freeze First Column. 

Freeze Top Row and Freeze First Column are just as they say. Row 1 and Column A will freeze. 

With Freeze Panes, you must be aware of what cell you are actively in. Everything above and to the left of the active cell will freeze.

For example, if you want rows 1 and 2 to freeze, you need to actively be in cell A3. 

If you want column A and B and row 1 to freeze, you need to actively be in cell C2. 

Display Numbers as Phone Numbers

(Excel versions from 2007 to current)

When entering a phone number into a cell, it is faster to just type the number without the dashes or parenthesis. You can format a cell to automatically format the phone number for you.

Excel provides a special number format that lets you format a number as a phone number. For example, you can format a 10-digit number, such as 3039032362, as (303) 903-2362.

Select the cell or range of cells that you want to format.

A number without formatting

On the Home Tab, in the Number group, click the launcher arrow.

Number group launch arrow

The Format Cells dialog box will open.

On the Number tab, select Special from Category and then choose Phone Number.

Format Cells dialog box

Click Ok.

Enter the phone number, just enter the numbers and when you hit Enter, the formatting is done.

Excel cell showing a number with phone number formatting

 

Want to read more about Excel’s number formatting? Read this post: Number Formatting in Excel

Excel’s Active Cell & a Grayed Out Ribbon?

An active cell is outlined by a heavy border, which allows you to easily see where the cell is that is being worked with and where data will be entered. It can also be referred to as the current cell or selected cell.

Active Cell

Why is this important to know? I have a couple of reasons to share with you.

First, it lets you know what cell you are in. When you start typing text or entering a formula, this is where that data will appear.

Second, if you are in edit mode, some commands on the Ribbon will be grayed out and you can’t use them.

“Ms. Harris, my Ribbon isn’t working,” a student says out loud in class.

By now, when I hear something to that effect, I know what they are referring to. But I go ahead and ask

“can you be more specific?”

“Nothing I click on will work, everything is grayed out,” comes the response.

Let’s take a closer look at what this student is referring to. Take a look a Figure 1 below. The cell E2 is selected, but not in edit mode. You can see the commands are available on the Home tab of the Ribbon.

Active cell not in edit mode
Figure 1 Cell Selected, but not in Edit Mode

Now let’s take a look at Figure 2 below. Cell E2 is in edit mode. You can tell from the insertion cursor in the cell. Also notice that the commands on the Home Tab of the Ribbon are grayed out.

Figure 2 The cell is in Edit Mode
Figure 2 The cell is in Edit Mode

You can edit the contents of a cell directly in the cell (you can also edit the contents of a cell by typing in the formula bar.) When Excel is in edit mode some features work differently or are unavailable. For example, you cannot change the alignment of the contents of a cell.

Also, the arrow keys behave differently. Instead of moving the cursor from cell to cell, in Edit mode, the arrow keys move the cursor around in the cell.

To exit edit mode, simply hit the Enter, Tab, or the Esc key on your keyboard. Or click another cell in the worksheet.

Number Formatting in Excel

I was in Shannon’s office, sitting in her visitor’s chair across from her desk. She had requested a one-on-one Excel training session and I was waiting for her to finish up whatever she was working on currently.

“I just need to get these last few numbers entered into our department budget,” she announced as I waited.

“No worries, I will just sit here and watch you work,” I said half-jokingly.

As I sat there her hand movement caught my attention. The index finger of her left hand was tracking the information on the paper in front of her. Her right hand was flying over the 10-key on the keyboard. I also noticed her double tap on the zero key. I realized for every number, she manually entered .00 or if there was a needed comma, she was manually entering the comma.

“Shannon, I think I know the first thing I want to cover in our training session,” I said.

Here is what we covered:

Don’t put those commas in yourself.

Number formatting is used to change the appearance of a number or value in a cell. Formatting numbers does not change the actual number that you enter, just the way it appears in the spreadsheet.

Commonly used number formats include:
percent symbols ( % ),
commas ( , ),
decimal places, and dollar signs( $ )

Number formatting can be applied to a single cell, entire columns or rows, a select range of cells, or the whole worksheet.

The default format for cells containing a value is the General style. This style has no specific format and displays values as plain numbers – no dollar signs, commas etc. Just a plain number.

To change a cell’s format, you can use one of the buttons on the Ribbon, such as comma, percent or currency which apply preset styles to the selected cells.

Another option is to click the drop down arrow next to General on the Ribbon. This will give you additional formatting options.

After Shannon applied the Currency style to her columns, all she had to do was enter the number. The dollar sign and .00 were automatically added.

Currency Style and Accounting Style – What’s the difference?

They do look similar to each other.

The Accounting style aligns the dollar sign at the left edge of the cell and displays a dash for zero values.
The Currency style places the dollar sign right next to the number.

Note: The Currency format can display negative numbers with a minus sign, in red, with parentheses, or in red with parentheses.

The Accounting format displays negative numbers in parentheses.

You can also watch the video on my YouTube channel: Number Formatting in Excel

 

Navigate a Word Document with Shift + F5

Microsoft Word has some nice shortcuts that are not well known. One of those is the Shift + F5 shortcut.

Use this to cycle between your most recent edits. With a large document, Shift+F5 is handy to see what you have edited most recently. And, you can use it when you first open a document to take you to your most recent edit.

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If you are on a laptop, you may need to use your function key along with the F5 key.

Shift + Fn + F5

 

Charting Progress Toward a Goal in Excel

Charts help bridge the gap between our spreadsheet data and the real world. I don’t remember where I first read that, it was years ago. But it is something I always tell my students. It is so true. At a glance, which is easier to understand?

This spreadsheet data?

Spreadsheet data showing how much money has been raised each month

Or this chart?

Thermometer style chart showing how much money has been raised for an event

A thermometer chart shows you how much of a goal has been achieved. Such as how much money has been raised for an event.

Creating a thermometer type chart is one of the best visuals to present your data in an understandable way.

This type of chart is for a single point target and it is easy to create.

Watch my YouTube video here: Charting Progress Towards Goal – Video

Download instructions here: Charting progress toward a goal

Numbering the Rows in Your Word Tables

Have you ever created a table and you need to add numbering to the first column? Ever done it manually? Ouch. There is actually a way to do this quickly. Simply select the column and click on the Numbering button from the Home tab. I know!!

alt=""The same thing works if you select a row and want to have numbering across your columns

Watch the video on YouTube: Numbering the rows in your Word Tables

Expect and Except the Challenge – No Excuses

Word excuses coming out of computer screen

“You don’t understand, I haven’t used a computer before.”

“I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last 10 years.”

“My job didn’t require the use of a computer.”

“I didn’t grow up around computers.”

I teach a class, Intro to PC Applications, at a local community college. This class covers the Microsoft applications – Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint – applications that are in great demand in today’s workforce. This is a required class for several of the degree paths and many of the certificates. There are no prerequisites for this course, so I get some incredibly full classes. My students ages range from 16 – 65+, I have high school students to adults in career transitions.

Every semester, I get at least a couple students who are brand new to using a computer. Some can barely use a mouse, others have only used a computer for email or just web browsing. Maybe they have used MS Word at its most basic level.

We start the semester learning MS Word. But not only are the students learning Word, but they must also learn to navigate the Learning Management System (LMS) and the separate online platform for many of their assignments. Additionally, they need to have some basic navigation skills on the computer.

The students new to computers? They struggle.

These students have to put forth a little more time and effort. I do my best to provide additional instruction before, after and during class. I provide video instructions and website resources. But being a part-time instructor, my time is limited.

It’s not long before I start hearing the excuses. I hear so many variations.

“This class is hard.”

“I don’t have time for the extra stuff.”

I get it. For most of these students with little or no past computer experience, this is also their first college course, or one of the first. There are a lot of new things going on at once. And in 15 weeks, for a total of 3 hours a week (class time), they are going at an unfamiliar pace.

I struggle with how to best meet the needs of these few students, when I have 20 others in the same class. The school does provide free tutoring and I encourage them to take advantage of the service.

I’m writing this post to let those students know that, while it can be a great struggle, there is hope.

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