- Statistics

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2.1 What is Excel

Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet program that can be used to enter data in tabular form and to perform a large variety of computations on that data. In addition, Excel can be used to create a wide range of graphical charts, and can even act as a simple database program to store, search, and retrieve data.

Note: The instructions and screen shots that follow refer to Excel 2003. If you use a newer version (e.g. Excel 2007) you will find that most of the basic functionality is the same, but the menus and appearances are different. You could use the "Help" feature to find out how specific commands in the 'new' Excel relate to previous ways of doing them. For example, if you search "Help" for "Excel 2003" you will find an interactive "Excel 2003 to Excel 2007 command reference guide". You might find that guide helpful if you have any questions with the instructions below.

A file in Excel is called a "Work book", and each workbook can contain several "Sheets". A "sheet" is a table with rows and columns, where the rows are numbered and whose columns are labeled with letters from A to Z, then AA, AB, ... and so on.

Each cell in a table can contain text, numbers, or formulas, as well as more sophisticated types such as currencies, dates, etc. In addition, sheets can contain graphic elements such as charts that can be linked to values in specific cells.

The power of Excel comes from creating formulas that perform calculations on cells containing numbers. Every time a number involved in a formula changes, the resulting value of the formula also changes automatically. To see a simple example, download a sample Excel worksheet by clicking on the Excel icon below (but first read on a little more).

click to open Microsoft Excel spreadsheet

NOTE: If Excel does not automatically start,  or you see a lot of strange characters instead, then right-click on the above link and save the document to your desktop. Then double-click on the downloaded icon to make Excel start. Either method will be okay for the remainder of the course.

If everything works, you will see a "live" spreadsheet in a separate window that looks similar to the video below.

When you are done, close the window that contains the spreadsheet. If you are asked whether to save your changes, select no. Make sure you know how to return to this document in your web browser.