Every Excel grandmaster needs to start somewhere. In this chapter, you'll learn how to create a basic spreadsheet. First, you'll learn to move around Excel's grid of cells, typing in numbers and text as you go. Next, you'll take a quick tour of the Excel window, stopping to meet the different tabs in the ribbon and take a quick peek at the formula bar. Finally, you'll get a tour of Excel's innovative backstage view—the file-management hub where you can save your work for posterity, open recent files, and tweak Excel options.
Even if you're an Excel old-timer, don't bypass this chapter. Although you already know how to fill in a simple spreadsheet, you haven't seen Excel's backstage view, which is a completely new feature in Excel 2010. It gives you a single, streamlined place to perform a whole variety of tasks, most of which have to do with managing your files. To skip the review and pick up your backstage pass, jump straight to Going Backstage.
When you first launch Excel, it starts you off with a new, blank worksheet, as shown in Figure 1-1. A worksheet is the grid of cells where you type your information and formulas. This grid takes up most of the Excel window. It's where you'll perform all your work, such as entering data, writing formulas, and reviewing the results.
Here are a few basics about Excel's grid:
The grid divides your worksheet into rows and columns. Columns are identified with letters (A, B, C…), while rows are identified with numbers (1, 2, 3…).
The smallest unit in your worksheet is the cell. Cells are identified by column and row. For example, C6 is the address of a cell in column C (the third column) and row 6 (the sixth row). Figure 1-2 shows this cell, which looks like a rectangular box. Incidentally, an Excel cell can hold up to 32,000 characters.
A worksheet can span an eye-popping 16,000 columns and 1 million rows. In the unlikely case that you want to go beyond those limits—say, if you're tracking blades of grass on the White House lawn—you'll need to create a new worksheet. Every spreadsheet file can hold a virtually unlimited number of worksheets, as you'll learn in Chapter 4.
When you enter information, enter it one cell at a time. However, you don't have to follow any set order. For example, you can start by typing information into cell A40 without worrying about filling any data in the cells that appear in the earlier rows.
Figure 1-1. The largest part of the Excel window is the worksheet grid, where you type in your information.
Obviously, once you go beyond 26 columns, you run out of letters. Excel handles this by doubling up (and then tripling up) letters. For example, column Z is followed by column AA, then AB, then AC, all the way to AZ and then BA, BB, BC—you get the picture. And if you create a ridiculously large worksheet, you'll find that column ZZ is followed by AAA, AAB, AAC, and so on.
Figure 1-2. Here, the current cell is C6. You can recognize the current (or active) cell based on its heavy black border. You'll also notice that the corresponding column letter (C) and row number (6) are highlighted at the edges of the worksheet. Just above the worksheet, on the left side of the window, the formula bar tells you the active cell address.
The best way to get a feel for Excel is to dive right in and start putting together a worksheet. The following sections cover each step that goes into assembling a simple worksheet. This one tracks household expenses, but you can use the same approach to create any basic worksheet.
When you fire up Excel, it opens a fresh workbook file. If you've already got Excel open and you want to create another workbook, just choose File→New (where File switches you into Excel's backstage view, and New is a command on the left side of the window). You'll see a variety of options for creating specialized types of spreadsheets. But to get started with a blank canvas, keep "Blank workbook" selected and click the Create button, as shown in Figure 1-3.
A workbook is a collection of one or more worksheets. That distinction isn't terribly important now because you're using only a single worksheet in each workbook you create. But in Chapter 4, you'll learn how to use several worksheets in the same workbook to track related collections of data.
For now, all you need to know is that the worksheet is the grid of cells where you place your data, and the workbook is the spreadsheet file that you save on your computer.
You don't need to pick the file name for your workbook when you first create it. Instead, that decision happens later, when you save your workbook. For now, you start with a blank canvas that's ready to receive your numerical insights.
Creating new workbooks doesn't disturb what you've already done. Whatever workbook you were using remains open in another window. You can use the taskbar to move from one workbook to the other, or you can use the Excel shortcuts explained on Working with Multiple Open Spreadsheets.
Excel allows you to arrange information in whatever way you like. There's nothing to stop you from scattering numbers left and right, across as many cells as you can. However, one of the most common (and most useful) ways to arrange your information is as a table, with headings for each column.
It's important to remember that even for the simplest worksheet, the decisions you make about what's going to go in each column can have a big effect on how easy it is to manipulate your information. For example, in a worksheet that stores a mailing list, you could have two columns: one for names and another for addresses. But if you create more than two columns, your life will probably be easier since you can separate first names from street addresses from ZIP codes, and so on. Figure 1-4 shows the difference.
You can, of course, always add or remove columns later. But you can avoid getting gray hairs by starting a worksheet with all the columns you think you'll need.
The first step in creating your worksheet is to add your headings in the row of cells at the top of the worksheet (row 1). Technically, you don't need to start right in the first row, but unless you want to add more information before your table—like a title for the chart or today's date—there's no point in wasting the space. Adding information is easy—just click the cell you want and start typing. When you're finished, hit Tab to complete your entry and move to the next cell to the right (or Enter to head to the cell just underneath).
Figure 1-4. Top: If you enter the first and last names together in one column, Excel can sort only by the first names. And if you clump the addresses and ZIP codes together, you give Excel no way to count how many people live in a certain town or neighborhood, because Excel can't extract the ZIP codes. Bottom: The benefit of a six-column table is significant: It lets you sort (reorganize) your list according to people's last names or where they live. It also allows you to filter out individual bits of information when you start using functions later in this book.
The information you put in an Excel worksheet doesn't need to be in neat, ordered columns. Nothing stops you from scattering numbers and text in random cells. However, most Excel worksheets resemble some sort of table, because that's the easiest and most effective way to deal with large amounts of structured information.
For a simple expense worksheet designed to keep a record of your most prudent and extravagant purchases, try the following three headings:
Date Purchased stores the date when you spent the money.
Item stores the name of the product that you bought.
Price records how much it cost.
Right away, you face your first glitch: awkwardly crowded text. Figure 1-5 shows how you can adjust column width for proper breathing room.
Figure 1-5. Top: The standard width of an Excel column is 8.43 characters, which hardly allows you to get a word in edgewise. To solve this problem, position your mouse on the right border of the column header you want to expand so that the mouse pointer changes to the resize icon (it looks like a double-headed arrow). Now drag the column border to the right as far as you want. As you drag, a tooltip appears, telling you the character size and pixel width of the column. Both of these pieces of information play the same role—they tell you how wide the column is—only the unit of measurement changes. Bottom: When you release the mouse, the entire column of cells is resized to the new size.
A column's character width doesn't really reflect how many characters (or letters) fit in a cell. Excel uses proportional fonts, in which different letters take up different amounts of room. For example, the letter W is typically much wider than the letter 1. All this means is that the character width Excel shows you isn't a real indication of how many letters can fit in the column, but it's still a useful measurement that you can use to compare different columns.
You can now begin adding your data: simply fill in the rows under the column titles. Each row in the expense worksheet represents a separate purchase you've made. (If you're familiar with databases, you can think of each row as a separate record.)
As Figure 1-6 shows, the first column is for dates, the second column is for text, and the third column holds numbers. Keep in mind that Excel doesn't impose any rules on what you type, so you're free to put text in the Price column. But if you don't keep a consistent kind of data in each column, you won't be able to easily analyze (or understand) your information later.
Figure 1-6. This rudimentary expense list has three items (in rows 2, 3, and 4). The alignment of each column reflects the data type (by default, numbers and dates are right-aligned, while text is left-aligned), indicating that Excel understands your date and price information.
That's it. You've now created a living, breathing worksheet. The next section explains how you can edit the data you've entered.
Every time you start typing in a cell, Excel erases any existing content in that cell. (You can also quickly remove the contents of a cell by just moving to it and pressing Delete, which clears its contents.)
If you want to edit cell data instead of replacing it, you need to put the cell in edit mode, like this:
Move to the cell you want to edit.
Use the mouse or the arrow keys to get to the correct cell.
Put the cell in edit mode by pressing F2.
Edit mode looks almost the same as ordinary text entry mode. The only difference is that you can use the arrow keys to move through the text you're typing and make changes. (When you aren't in edit mode, pressing these keys just moves you to another cell.)
If you don't want to use F2, you can also get a cell into edit mode by double-clicking it.
Complete your edit.
Once you've modified the cell content, press Enter to make your change or Esc to cancel your edit and leave the old value in the cell. Alternatively, you can click on another cell to accept the current value and go somewhere else. But while you're in edit mode, you can't use the arrow keys to move out of the cell.
If you start typing new information into a cell and you decide you want to move to an earlier position in your entry (to make an alteration, for instance), just press F2. The cell box still looks the same, but you're now in edit mode, which means that you can use the arrow keys to move within the cell (instead of moving from cell to cell). You can press F2 again to return to the normal data entry mode, which allows you to use the arrow keys to move to another cell.
As you enter data, you may discover the Bigtime Excel Display Problem (known to aficionados as BEDP): Cells in adjacent columns can overlap one another. Figure 1-7 shows the problem. One way to fix BEDP is to manually resize the column, as shown in Figure 1-5. Another option is to use wrapping to fit multiple lines of text in a single cell, as described on Alignment and Orientation.
Figure 1-7. Overlapping cells can create big headaches. For example, if you type a large amount of text into A1, and then you type some text into B1, you see only part of the data in A1 on your worksheet (as shown here). The rest is hidden from view. But if, say, A3 contains a large amount of text and B3 is empty, the content in A3 is displayed over both columns, and you don't have a problem.