Our guide to Microsoft Excel
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to Microsoft Excel

First published date November 15 2013 Amended date November 15 2013

When Microsoft Office made its debut in 1990, Word quickly became the most famous and iconic component in this package of business programs. However, while Word established itself as a default option for typing up documents, and PowerPoint brightened up a million dull presentations, Excel was the unsung hero of the Office family. A deceptively simple spreadsheet program, it enabled people to store, organise and manipulate data in a relatively straightforward manner.


Firm favourite

In the intervening quarter of a century, Microsoft Excel has revolutionised jobs and careers from accountancy to marketing, and its wide-ranging abilities have been partly responsible for computers becoming a core component on every desk and workstation. Despite Microsoft’s introduction of a dedicated database package (known as Access) in 1994, Excel has remained the most popular program for storing and processing information. Its use by employees all around the world, and in a spectrum of different industries, means a working knowledge of Excel is an attribute employers will often look for during job interviews. Taking a course in Excel is therefore a real feather in any candidate’s cap, as well as being a great way to stand out from other less-qualified job applicants.


It all adds up

In essence, Excel is a giant calculator. It automates sums and processes, and it can accept data from figures and percentages through to words and sentences. Information is entered into individual cells, which are arranged in rows and columns, and a typical Excel spreadsheet can handle 17,179,869,184 separate pieces of information – enough for the world’s biggest companies to fit all their data into a single Excel file. There is also strong compatibility between Excel and other members of Microsoft’s Office family, particularly Word and Access, and anyone who’s familiar with one Office program will find it easy to perform basic tasks in its siblings. In this way, an Excel course can facilitate progress onto a more advanced course in Microsoft Office.

Microsoft Excel can seem daunting to a beginner. The most recent version offers loads of functionalities, with the ability to perform complex tasks like trigonometry or duplicate record deletion, all in a fraction of a second. Formulas and functions are pre-installed, and many can be customised, but Excel doesn’t come with instructions, and its Help function is more useful for checking how to do something than explaining what the something actually is! Courses will start with the simplest things, teaching students how to create and save files and perform basic data entry, before moving on to complex subjects like What-If analysis or interactive data filtering. Data can also be presented in lots of different ways, including graphs and charts, but a certain amount of Excel know-how is required in order to present information in a suitable way.


Make it your own

Individual users can customise their Excel packages by creating additional bits of bespoke programming, enabling it to perform more technical roles than the standard program is normally capable of. This is done through a package called Visual Basic for Applications (VBA for short), while macros are a simpler built-in form of automation. These allow Excel users to perform certain actions in a set order, and then repeat them with a single click of a button, and macros are a fine example of how Excel can be customised to suit each user’s needs and requirements.

Career towards a conclusion

Because Microsoft Excel is such a versatile and wide-ranging package, its popularity with the business world is hard to overstate. Beyond the core industries of financial services and banking, it is a daily companion of engineers, sales teams, marketing and PR companies, business executives and distribution/logistics firms. A course in Microsoft Excel is therefore of real value – along with web browsers and word processing packages, it is one of the most important and widely-used computer programs ever created.


Did you know?

·         There was never a version 1.0 of Excel for PCs – Microsoft first launched a PC-based package at the same time as Apple Mac Excel version 2.0 was introduced. The PC version therefore became 2.0 as well, for consistency. Excel also skipped from version 5.0 to 7.0, so it tied in better with the seventh-generation Word package that was launched simultaneously.

·         To date, Excel has received over 120,000 likes on Facebook. That’s quite remarkable when you consider this program is used almost entirely in the workplace, and very few people would ever regard Excel as fun, relaxing or something to get excited about.

·         The 1997 version of Microsoft Excel had a hidden extra buried within it – a flight simulator! Gameplay was fairly basic, and the graphics wouldn’t worry Xbox or PlayStation users, but as a way of killing a boring half-hour in the office on a Friday afternoon, it was much appreciated by everyone who knew the right combination of key presses needed to unlock it… 


By Neil Cumins


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