Richard M. Felder
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
North Carolina State University

A spreadsheet is a matrix of information, organized by rows and columns. Each cell of the spreadsheet may contain a number, a character string, or a mathematical formula. An illustrative spreadsheet is shown below.

Personal Budget Sheet: November 2015
Budget Expense Saving
Entertainment 50.00 60.00 (10.00)
Books 20.00 0.00 20.00
Groceries 150.00 120.00 30.00
Rent 150.00 150.00 0.00
10  Stationery 10.00 0.00 10.00
11  Transportation 20.00 10.00 10.00
12  Utilities 30.00 30.00 0.00
14  Total 430.00 370.00 60.00

The spreadsheet shown above has 14 rows and four columns (A-D). In preparing it, the user will have typed in labels (text) or numbers for the cells in Rows 1-12, Columns A-C, such as

In other cells the user will have placed formulas to be used to calculate the cell contents. For instance, the formula entered in Cell D6 would be (all formulas begin with equal signs), which means, subtract the number in Cell C6 from the number in Cell B6 and put the result in Cell D6. The formula in Cell B14 might be which means add the numbers in Cells B6 through B12 and put the result in Cell B14.

As soon as input values and formulas are entered in their cells, the spreadsheet program displays the values and the results of the formula executions. If an input cell value is changed, all formulas that include that cell address are automatically recalculated to reflect the new input value. Once the spreadsheet has been prepared it can be printed out and used to generate plots and tables to be included in a report.

Getting Started

Open Excel. The window that opens has features similar to those listed below. There may be differences between what we describe and what you see on your screen, however, since the exact format of Excel depends on which version you are using. Try to find the following elements or their equivalents on your screen as we describe them:

Different versions of Excel are often installed on different computers, so some of our descriptions may not exactly match what you see on your screen.

We will explain the other features of the Excel window in the exercises that follow. The symbol [RETURN] henceforth denotes the Return or Enter key.

Moving around the worksheet

  1. Move the cursor around the worksheet using the mouse. Move the pointer to different cells of the worksheet and click the left mouse button. Note that the cell cursor jumps to the cell on which you click and the cell address of its new location is shown on the control/status line.
  2. Move the cursor with the arrow keys. Use the four arrow keys toward the lower right of the keyboard to move the cell cursor up, down, left, and right.
  3. Go directly to a named cell. Change the cell address in the narrow window directly above the worksheet on the left of the Excel window from A1 to D30 and hit [RETURN]. The cursor should now be in Cell D30.
  4. Return the cursor to Cell A1.
  5. Shift the worksheet. Hold the right arrow down to push the cursor past the rightmost column showing on the screen. Notice that you are bringing additional columns into view on the right and pushing others off to the left. Keep going past Column Z and observe how the adjacent columns are labeled (AA, AB, AC,...). Now move down to higher numbered rows at the bottom with the down arrow, pushing upper rows out of view at the top.
  6. Enter a number in a cell. Send the cursor to Cell AV61. Type 27 [RETURN]. The number you typed should appear in Cell AV61.
  7. Scroll horizontally one column at a time. Look at the bar just below the last visible row of the worksheet. On the left are some arrow buttons (for scrolling from one sheet to another) and sheet numbers, and on the right is the horizontal scroll bar, a window with a button or bar inside it and arrow buttons on either side. Point to the small arrow button at the left of the scroll bar and click. The worksheet shifts left by one column. Do it once more. Now scroll back to the right, with the arrow at the right of the scroll bar, until the 27 reappears at the lower right.
  8. Scroll horizontally with the slider bar. Move the pointer to the slider bar (the button within the scroll bar). Hold the left mouse button down and move the pointer left and then right to scroll the worksheet horizontally.
  9. Scroll vertically. Use the vertical scroll bar to the right of the worksheet to scroll up and down a row at a time (click on arrows) or continuously (drag the slider bar with the pointer).
  10. Return to the upper left of the worksheet. Go back to Cell A1.
In the remainder of this tutorial, you will produce a spreadsheet that looks like this:

Trial 324: M =   3  
Run X Y   M(X-Y)
1 2.00 4.0 -6.0
2 3.00 4.0 -3.0
3 6.00 2.0 12.0
TOTAL 11.00 10.0 3.0

You will enter the first row, the column titles in Row 3, the entries for the Columns headed Run, X, and Y, and the word TOTAL, and you will then enter formulas that Excel will use to calculate the values of M(X-Y) and the column totals.

Entering labels and numbers in cells

A cell can contain:

We will show you how to enter labels and numbers in the next series of instructions, and we will eventually get to formulas.

Note: Throughout the remainder of the exercise we will tell you to type things enclosed in angled brackets (< >) followed by [RETURN] (for the Return key): for example, you may see an instruction like type < 26.3 >[RETURN]. (Don't type it now.) When you see such instructions, type what is in the brackets but not the brackets themselves and then hit the Return key.

11. Enter a label in a cell.

12. Enter and position labels and numbers in cells.

Erasing and editing cell contents

13. Erase the contents of a cell. Let's now get rid of that 27.

14. Edit (revise) the contents of a cell.


15. Save the spreadsheet as a named Excel file.

Selecting and operating on a range of cells

16. Select and deselect a range of cells.

17. Copy, cut, paste, and clear cell contents.

18. Format cells and cell ranges.

19. Save the revised spreadsheet.

Quitting Excel

20. Choose the File menu and select Exit.

* * * * *

Recalling a stored spreadsheet If you logged off before, bring up Excel again.

21. Open the previously saved file.

Entering formulas

22. Enter a formula in a cell.

23. Enter a formula by pointing and clicking on component cells.

24. Change the value of a cell that appears in a formula.

Copying Formulas

We now want to copy the formula in Cell D4 into Cells D5 and D6, but not to copy it exactly. We want each cell in Column D to contain the difference between the values in the same row of Column B (X) and Column C (Y) multiplied by the value in C1. Thus, the formula in Cell D5 should be D5 = C1*(B5-C5), and that in Cell D6 should be D6 = C1*(B6-C6). This task turns out to be very easy to accomplish with Excel.

25. Copy a formula in one cell into selected adjacent cells.

How did Excel know which cell addresses should go in the copied formulas? The answer follows.

Relative and Fixed Cell Addresses in Formulas

Excel Functions

Excel has a variety of built-in mathematical functions (ABS, EXP, LN, SIN, etc.), statistical functions (SUM, AVERAGE, MAX, MIN), financial functions, and others. Some of these functions are listed at the end of this tutorial.

26. Enter a function that sums the values in Cells B4:B6.

27. Copy the formula in Cell B7 into Cells C7 and D7.

Trial 324: M =   3  
Run X Y   M(X-Y)
1 2.00 4.0 -6.0
2 3.00 4.0 -3.0
3 6.00 2.0 12.0
TOTAL 11.00 10.00 3.00

28. Change a cell value and recalculate the spreadsheet.

29. Save.

At this point, you could print the worksheet (File --> Print), expand it to include more data, or quit Excel (File --> Exit).


Listed below are some (but not all) of the built-in functions provided by Excel. Arguments may be numbers, cell addresses, or cell ranges [e.g. EXP(4.5), SUM(A2,A4), AVERAGE(C6:C15)]. If a function has multiple arguments, the argument values or the addresses of the cells containing these values may be listed as ranges (C3:C9), or as individual cell addresses and/or numbers separated by commas (A4,C5,17.3), or a combination (A5,B4:B8,C3). To get a complete list of functions and more information about them, use the on-line help facility.