If you’ve
used Microsoft Office products before, such as Word
or PowerPoint,
you probably have an idea about the purpose of some of the buttons and menu
options available to you in Excel.
However, if you’re new to Excel, you might be looking at something totally
unfamiliar. In this article, I’ll go over the visual elements in Microsoft
Excel and tell you what each one does.

The Excel window

The Excel
window is made up of a number of different elements that you will use as you
build your full spreadsheet. Figure A provides you with an overview of the main
Excel window along with callouts indicating the function of each interface
element. The section underneath Figure A
provides you with complete details about the function of each element.

Figure A

Each area of the interface serves a specific purpose

Menu Bar

function in Excel is accessible from the menu bar. This toolbar consists of a
number of drop-down menus. One sometimes frustrating feature in newer versions
of Excel, including Excel 2003, is the program’s attempt to help you out. New
Office programs try to provide you with only what they think you need. In this
case, after you first install Office, Excel’s drop down menus don’t
automatically include every option you might need. Items that you haven’t used,
or rarely use don’t show up on the menu unless you wait for a few seconds, or
unless you click the down arrows at the bottom of the menu, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Note the highlighted down arrows. You
can click this to open up the full menu

I get
frequent calls from users that are confused by the feature and wonder why some
of their menu options have gone missing. Fortunately, it’s easy to change this
default behavior without having to mess around with clicking other areas of the
menu. To do so, open Tools | Customize and enable the checkbox next to the “Always
show full menus” option and then click Close. Figure C shows you this option.

Figure C

Once you enable the checkbox, you always get full menus in Excel. This
works for all other Office products, too.

Standard Toolbar

As you
might have guessed by its name, the Standard Toolbar contains the most common
functions that you will need while you use Excel. The left part of this toolbar
is almost identical across Office products, including Excel, Word, and
PowerPoint. The right part of the toolbar includes some useful and common Excel
functions including buttons that let you sort data and more. Many of these
options will be discussed in future parts of this training series.

Figure D

The Excel Standard toolbar.

Formatting Toolbar

Just like
in Word, you can granularly format your Excel spreadsheet to make it look any
way you want. Using the buttons on this toolbar, you can boldface text,
underline text, center cell contents, right-justify cell contents, and much
more. In Excel, the Formatting Toolbar also provides other formatting options,
including options specifically format numeric cells as percentages, dollar
figures and more. Spreadsheet formatting is completely covered in a future
installment of this training series as well.

Figure E

The Excel Formatting toolbar.


In Figure A,
note the box labeled “cell” outlined in red in the center of the workspace. A
cell is an individual element of your Excel spreadsheet into which you enter
data elements on which you can perform calculations using formulas. Formulas
are covered in the next part of this series.

Note the
black-bordered cell in the upper right-hand corner of the spreadsheet. The cell
with a black border is the active cell. If you start to type, your information
will be entered into this cell.

Excel cells
are named by the point at which the column and row intersect. In Figure A, the
cell with the black border is named A1, because it is in column A, row 1. The cell with the red border that I outlined is
named C5.

Figure F

The black box indicates that this is the active cell in your worksheet.

Column Headings

Each Excel
sheet can support up to 256 columns of information and are ordered by letters
of the alphabet starting with A and going up to IV. Once you get to the column
named Z, Excel starts using two letter column names, so column 27 is named AA,
28 is named AB, and so forth. The 256th column is named IV.

Figure G

Excel column headings start with the letter A and go to IV.

A column in
Excel is usually used for a particular data element. For example, across the
top of an inventory spreadsheet, you might use column A for part number, column
B for description, column C for quantity and column D for purchase price. An
example is shown in Figure H.

Figure H

In a database, these column headings would be called fields.

You can
select the entire contents of a column by clicking the column heading. When you
move your mouse over a column heading, your cursor changes to a down arrow and,
when you click, the entire column turns black to indicate that you’ve selected
the whole column, as I’ve shown in Figure

Figure I

Column B is selected in this example.

Row Headings

capacity for 65,536 rows of data, Excel can hold a whole lot of information! In
Excel, a row is usually used for a record of information. Rows are numbered
from 1 to 65,536.

Figure J

Each row holds information about a product in the inventory.

Sheet Selection

If 256
columns, each with 65,536 rows aren’t enough, you can just use more sheets to
expand your workbook. You can have up to 256 sheets in a single Excel workbook.

So, if you
do the math… 256 columns x 65,536 rows x 256 sheets = 4,294,967,296 total cells
available for your use in a single Excel file.

When you
start a new Excel workbook, you are provided with three sheets. You can add
more any time you like. Further, unlike cells and columns, you can rename
sheets to make it easier to find what you’re looking for.

To move to
a different sheet, click the tab that corresponds to the sheet you want to work
with. It’s as easy as that.

To rename a
sheet, right-click the sheet you’d like to rename and choose the Rename option
from the resulting shortcut menu.

Figure K

Name sheets something that makes it easy to find information later on.

To add a
new sheet, right-click a sheet name, and choose Insert… from the shortcut menu.
This opens the Insert dialog box from which you can choose the kind of sheet
you’d like to add to your workbook.

Figure L

Choose the Worksheet option to add a new sheet to your workbook.

Once you
select the kind of sheet you want to add, click OK. In most cases, you’ll need
to add Worksheets to your workbook.

If a sheet
has outlived its usefulness, right-click its name and choose Delete from the
shortcut menu.

Name/Range Box

Name/Range box serves the singular purpose of helping you keep track of where
you are in your spreadsheet. Look back at Figure A. Note that the selected cell
is A1 and that this matches what you see in the Name/Range box. As you move
about your spreadsheet, the contents of this box will change to reflect your
current position.

You can
also name ranges, or groups, of cells in Excel. When you do so, the name of the
range appears here when you are within that area of your sheet. I’ll go over
more regarding ranges in a future installment in this series.

Figure M

In this example, cell B2 is selected and the name reflected in the Name

Task Pane

Office 2003
programs all use the Task Pane in the same way. This is the area of the screen
highlighted below in Figure N. The
contents of the Task Pane change depending on what you’re trying to do. For
example, if you choose File | New to start a new workbook, the Task Pane
changes to give you the various option that have to do with this task.

Figure N

In this example, the New Workbook options are shown in the Task Pane. In
Figure A, the Task Pane shows the Excel Help options.

Help Box

On the
standard toolbar, note the box labeled “Type a question for help”. Do what it
says and good things happen. In Figure O below, I typed “formula” into the box so that Excel would
show me help topics that have to do with creating Excel formulas. Note that
Excel uses the Task Pane to display the results of your search.

Figure O

Type what you need on and press Enter.

To open one
of the help topics displayed, click the heading. The help topic will open in a
separate window.

Excel 2003
includes a vast knowledgebase for your use. Just about any question you have
can be answered using Excel’s built-in help. In fact, your help is usually
current since Excel continually connects to Microsoft’s site to get updated
help topics as you search for them.

Formula Bar

The formula
bar is used to help you more easily keep track of what you’re doing with
formulas—calculations and functions—in your spreadsheet. With a formula, for
example, you can add up a column of numbers, find the average of a set of
numbers, and a whole lot more. Formulas are covered in the next part of this


Once you
get used to it, Excel’s interface is actually pretty easy to deal with. Some of
it changes depending on what you’re doing—such as the Task Pane—but that is
truly useful as you move forward. The tools you need are always at your