Most functions require a bit of information in the form of arguments — which aren't always easy to remember. If you don't know what's expected, use one of these quick methods for displaying information.
Most of us need little or no help to enter a simple SUM() or AVERAGE() function. We use them often and their arguments are simple. But when entering an unfamiliar function, we usually need a little more help. Fortunately, Excel goes a long way toward putting the information we need right at our fingertips — literally. First, once you type the function's opening parenthesis, Excel displays the arguments. This particular hint is my favorite because the order of the arguments is often all you need. Excel 2007 also displays a drop-down list of possible functions when you begin to enter a function — just choose one and go! Second, you can get Excel to enter the entire function for you. Enter an equals sign, as you normally would. Then, choose a function from the Name Box control. When you do, Excel will display the Function Arguments dialog box. This dialog provides more information on the function. To the right of each argument field, Excel displays the argument's data type. In addition, as you select each argument field, Excel explains the argument's purpose in the lower pane. Once you fill in the argument fields, Excel will display the result of the function. This is a good catch for improper references and incompatible data types. If the result isn't what you expect, you know you've made a mistake, so you can adjust the arguments before committing the function. Third, the Insert Function button on the Formula bar offers a quick way to find those functions you can't quite remember. You know you've used it before, but you just can't recall its name. Simply click Insert Function, enter a brief description of the function you're looking for, and click Go. Excel will display a list of possible matches. You might know about all of these function-entering helpers. But there's a keyboard shortcut that might be new to you. You can bypass the Name Box and display the Function Arguments dialog box from the keyboard. Simply enter the function by name and press [Ctrl]+A to display the Function Arguments dialog box. Regardless of where you are in the process of entering a function, you can find a quick way to display helpful information.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.