How can you excel with Excel?

FI-Log-On-With-Larry-SchneiderDear Larry,

I need to use Excel for the first time. Can you give me some pointers? —F.N.


Dear F.N.,

For those of you unfamiliar with Excel, it’s part of the Microsoft Office suite and is used for manipulating numbers and spreadsheets. Over the years, it has evolved from a rather simple spreadsheet calculator to an incredibly sophisticated development tool that could benefit just about anybody in the business world, regardless of the industry.

Even if you’re a home user, I’ll bet you could find a use for it. It’s just a matter of trying it out and seeing what it’s capable of.

When you start up Excel, you’re faced with a spreadsheet of columns and rows, each column headed up by a letter, each row by a number. The boxes that form the intersections of these columns and rows are referred to as cells (get it, exCEL). Thus, the first box in the top left corner is referred to as A1, the cell to its right as B1, and the cell below that as B2.

Cells can contain text, numbers, or formulas. With the first cell (A1) highlighted, type the word Name and press the right-arrow key to move to cell B1. Type Rate in B1, and continue on in this way, typing Hours in C1, Overtime in D1, and Pay in E1.

Return to cell A2 (just below Name) and type Jane and press the down-arrow key. Type Bill in A3 and Susan in A4. Use the arrow keys, and head over to B2, assigning Jane an hourly Rate of $18.00. While you’re at it, set Bill’s Rate to $16.50 and Susan’s to $16.00. Next, enter 40 for Jane’s Hours and 4 for her Overtime. Set Bill to 35.5 Hours and 3.75 Overtime. Finally, have Susan work 50 Hours with Overtime of 0.

Now it’s time for some formula magic. Move to cell E2 (Jane’s Pay). We can agree that Pay is equal to Hours times Rate plus Overtime times 1-1/2 times Rate, right? Since all Excel formulas must begin with an equal sign, we’ll type the following formula in cell E2: =C2*B2+D2*1.5*B2. Press the Enter key when you’re finished. Note that the asterisk (*) is used to represent multiplication and, incidentally, the slash (/) for division. Although we entered a formula in cell E2, Excel displays the actual result of the calculation: Jane’s pay should be $828.00.

Return to cell E2 and click Edit, Copy in the menu bar. Click and drag with your mouse to highlight cells E3 and E4 and press the Enter key. Voilà! We just copied the formula and calculated Bill’s and Susan’s Pay.

But wait, I made a mistake. How can I fix it? Jane’s rate should be $19.00 and her Overtime 5.

No problem. Simply change the values in cells B2 and C2 and Excel recalculates Jane’s pay on the fly.

Pretty cool, huh? Well, that’s only the beginning. With practice and a good instructional book or two, you’ll become an Excel whiz in no time.

This is Larry Schneider, logging off.


Larry Schneider is the owner of Accent on Computers, a Greenwich-based consulting firm catering to individuals, businesses and professional offices. Services include computer setup, training, troubleshooting, virus resolution, networking, Internet, database and programming. Call 203-625-7575, visit, or send e-mail to [email protected]

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