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Excel 2003 for Starters: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald

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Chapter 7. Building Basic Formulas

Most excel fans don't turn to the world's leading spreadsheet software just to create nicely formatted tables. Instead, they rely on Excel's industrial-strength computing muscle, which lets you reduce reams of numbers to neat subtotals and averages. Performing these calculations is the first step to extracting meaningful information out of raw data.

Excel provides a number of different ways to build formulas, letting you craft them by hand or point-and-click them into existence. In this chapter, you learn about all of these techniques. You start by examining the basic ingredients that make up any formula and then take a close look at the rules Excel uses when evaluating a formula.

Creating a Basic Formula

First things first: what exactly do formulas do in Excel? A formula is simply a series of mathematical instructions that you place in a cell in order to perform some kind of calculation. These instructions may be as simple as telling Excel to add up (sum) a column of numbers, or they may be complex enough to use advanced statistical functions to spot trends and make predictions. Here are some sample formulas written in English (the rest of this chapter is devoted to writing formulas in Excel-speak):

  • Calculate the sum of all the numbers in Column B2.

  • Calculate the difference between whatever number is in Cell G3 and whatever number is in Cell G2.

  • Calculate the product of the number in H32 ...

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