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Before you start using this MS Excel tutorial, it is very beneficial for you to become familiar with the basic features of MS Excel workbooks and worksheets. In MS Excel, a workbook is the file in which you work and store your data. Because each workbook can contain many sheets, you can organize various kinds of related information in a single file. Worksheets are used to list and analyze data. You can enter and edit data on several worksheets simultaneously and perform calculations based on data from multiple worksheets. When you create a chart, you can place the chart on the worksheet with its related data or on a separate chart sheet. The names of the worksheets appear on tabs at the bottom of the workbook window. To move from one sheet to another, click the desired sheet’s tab.

As you can see, we have already used the terms "spreadsheet" and "worksheet". Although people generally use the two terms interchangeably, the term worksheet refers to the row-and-column matrix sheet on which you work upon while the term spreadsheet refers to this type of computer application.

As mentioned earlier, the workbook can contain worksheets and chart sheets. The following illustration shows a new worksheet in an MS Excel 2010 workbook:

As you can see in the illustration, worksheets are made up of columns and rows. In a worksheet the "cell" is defined as the space where a specified row and column intersect. Each cell is assigned a name according to its "column" letter and "row" number. In each cell there may be the following types of data: text (labels), number data (constants), and formulas (mathematical equations that do all the work).

  • Spreadsheets have many mathematical functions built into them. The most basic operations are the standard multiplication (*), division (/), addition (+), and subtraction (-). There is an order of operations when you are evaluating a formula. Formulas are evaluated from left to right. Expressions enclosed in parentheses are evaluated first followed by exponents, multiplication and division (same level), and addition and subtraction (same level). MS Excel has many more operators and mathematical operations may also be performed using "functions" (e.g., the "SUM" function). A brief description of the latter and relevant common functions for summarizing data can be found here. Advanced MS Excel functions on correlation and regression analysis are also available.
  • Selecting cells is a very important concept of a spreadsheet. We need to know how to reference the data in other parts of the spreadsheet. When entering your selection you may use the keyboard or the mouse. We can select several cells together by specifying a starting and a stopping cell. This will select "all" the cells within this specified block of cells.

Depending on the task you want to perform in MS Excel, you can use either relative cell references (which are references to cells relative to the position of the formula) or absolute references (which are cell references that always refer to cells in a specific location). If a dollar sign precedes the letter and/or number, such as $A$1, the column and/or row reference is absolute. Relative references automatically adjust when you copy the cells while absolute references do not. Some of the basic functions of MS Excel 2010 will be demonstrated in this section.

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