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Basic Excel Formulas: A Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Excel Basics

Microsoft Excel is a powerful tool that has become an essential part of the modern workplace. With its versatile functions and extensive capabilities, Excel enables users to perform various tasks, from organizing data to performing complex calculations. However, for those who are new to Excel, the wealth of features and options can be overwhelming. That’s where our beginner’s guide to mastering basic Excel formulas comes in! This guide is designed specifically for beginners who want to learn the ins and outs of Excel and its basic formulas. By understanding these fundamental concepts, you can easily unlock the full potential of this powerful tool, improve your productivity, and impress your colleagues with your newfound skills.

In this blog post, we will cover a range of topics, including Excel basics, basic rules of Excel, essential Excel commands, and an introduction to the most commonly used formulas. By the end of this guide, you will have a solid foundation in Excel and be well-equipped to tackle everyday tasks with confidence. So, let’s dive in and start mastering Excel!

What is MS Excel?

Microsoft Excel is a widely-used spreadsheet application developed by Microsoft. It is part of the Microsoft Office suite and is available on both Windows and macOS platforms. Excel is used by millions of people around the world for various purposes, such as data analysis, budgeting, scheduling, and financial reporting, to name just a few. The software allows users to create, edit, and manage spreadsheets, which consist of cells organized into rows and columns. These cells can contain data, formulas, and functions that enable users to perform calculations, create charts, and analyze information.

Why is it important to learn Excel basics?

Learning the basics of Excel is crucial for both personal and professional development. In the workplace, Excel proficiency is often a requirement for many job roles, as it helps streamline data management and improve decision-making processes. Furthermore, mastering Excel basics can save you time, enhance your problem-solving skills, and make you a more valuable asset to any team or organization. On a personal level, Excel can be used for budgeting, tracking expenses, and organizing personal data.

Basics of Excel Sheet

  1. Workbook: An Excel file is called a workbook, which can contain one or more worksheets. Each workbook is saved as a separate file, usually with the extension .xlsx or .xls for older versions of Excel. A workbook allows you to organize related data and calculations in a single file.
  2. Worksheet: A worksheet is a single spreadsheet within a workbook. Each worksheet contains a grid of cells organized into rows (numbered) and columns (lettered). Worksheets can be added, deleted, or renamed as needed, making it easy to arrange and manage your data. You can switch between worksheets using the tabs at the bottom of the Excel window.
  3. Cells, rows, and columns: The basic building blocks of an Excel sheet are cells, rows, and columns. Cells are the individual boxes within the grid, where you can enter data, formulas, or functions. Each cell has a unique address, determined by the combination of its column letter and row number (e.g., A1, B2, C3). Rows are horizontal groups of cells, while columns are vertical groups of cells. By organizing your data in rows and columns, you can easily perform calculations, filter data, and create visualizations.

Understanding the Excel Interface

To make the most of Excel, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with its interface. The interface includes the Ribbon, which is the toolbar at the top of the screen that contains various tabs (e.g., Home, Insert, Formulas, etc.). Each tab contains a set of commands and tools related to specific tasks or functions. Additionally, the Excel interface features the Quick Access Toolbar, Formula Bar, and the Status Bar, which provide quick access to commonly used commands, display the contents of the active cell, and show important information about the current worksheet, respectively.

Data Entry

Entering data in Excel is straightforward: simply click on a cell and start typing. You can input various types of data, such as text, numbers, dates, and times. To move between cells, you can use the arrow keys, Tab key, or click with your mouse. It’s important to keep your data organized and consistent, as this will make it easier to analyze and perform calculations later on.

Saving and Sharing Excel Files

To save your work, click on the File tab and choose ‘Save’ or ‘Save As.’ It’s a good practice to save your work frequently to avoid losing data. When sharing Excel files, you have several options, such as emailing the file, sharing it via a cloud storage service, or collaborating with others directly in Excel through the co-authoring feature available in Office 365.

Essential Formatting and Editing Tools

Excel offers various formatting and editing tools that can help you present your data more effectively. Some of the most commonly used tools include:

  1. Font and Cell Formatting: Customize the appearance of your text and cells using the options available in the Home tab (e.g., font type, size, color, cell fill color, borders).
  2. Conditional Formatting: Apply formatting to cells based on specific criteria or conditions (e.g., highlight cells above a certain value).
  3. Merge and Center: Combine multiple cells into one and center the content within the merged cell.
  4. Wrap Text: Display lengthy cell content on multiple lines within the cell.
  5. Format Painter: Copy the formatting from one cell to another quickly and easily.

Remember, a well-formatted and organized spreadsheet not only looks professional but also makes it easier to read and understand the data.

Basic Excel Commands

1. Navigating the Excel Ribbon

The Ribbon is the primary way to access Excel commands and tools. It is organized into a series of tabs, with each tab focused on a specific set of tasks or features. To navigate the Ribbon, simply click on the desired tab to reveal its commands. Some of the most commonly used tabs include:

  1. Home: Contains basic formatting, editing, and data management tools.
  2. Insert: Allows you to add objects like charts, tables, pictures, and shapes to your worksheet.
  3. Formulas: Provides access to Excel’s built-in functions, formula auditing tools, and named ranges.
  4. Data: Includes tools for importing, sorting, filtering, and validating data.
  5. Review: Offers proofing, accessibility, and collaboration tools.

Common Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are a valuable time-saving tool when working with Excel. They allow you to quickly access commands and navigate your worksheets without relying on your mouse. Some common Excel keyboard shortcuts include:

  1. Ctrl + C: Copy selected content
  2. Ctrl + V: Paste copied content
  3. Ctrl + Z: Undo the last action
  4. Ctrl + Y: Redo the last action
  5. Ctrl + S: Save the current workbook
  6. Ctrl + F: Open the Find dialog box
  7. Ctrl + H: Open the Replace dialog box
  8. Ctrl + Arrow Keys: Navigate to the edge of the current data region

Using Excel’s Built-in Functions

Excel comes with a vast library of built-in functions, which are pre-defined formulas that perform specific calculations or operations. These functions are organized into categories, such as Math & Trig, Text, Logical, Date & Time, and Lookup & Reference. To use a function, simply type an equal sign (=) followed by the function name and its arguments within parentheses. For example, to calculate the sum of cells A1 to A10, you would enter the formula “=SUM(A1:A10)”.

As you become more comfortable with Excel, you’ll find that using its built-in functions can greatly simplify and automate many tasks. In the next section, we’ll explore some of the most commonly used basic Excel functions.

Basic Functions of MS Excel

Basic Mathematical Operations

Excel provides a variety of functions for performing basic mathematical operations. Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. SUM: Calculates the sum of a range of cells. For example, “=SUM(A1:A5)” adds the values in cells A1 through A5.
  2. AVERAGE: Calculates the average of a range of cells. For example, “=AVERAGE(B1:B10)” finds the average value of cells B1 through B10.
  3. MIN: Returns the smallest value within a range of cells. For example, “=MIN(C1:C5)” identifies the lowest value in cells C1 through C5.
  4. MAX: Returns the largest value within a range of cells. For example, “=MAX(D1:D10)” identifies the highest value in cells D1 through D10.
  5. COUNT: Counts the number of cells in a range that contain numerical values. For example, “=COUNT(E1:E10)” counts the number of cells with numbers in cells E1 through E10.

Text Functions

Text functions help you manipulate and analyze text data in Excel. Some commonly used text functions include:

  1. CONCATENATE: Combines two or more text strings into one. For example, “=CONCATENATE(A1, ” “, B1)” combines the contents of cells A1 and B1, separated by a space.
  2. LEFT, RIGHT, MID: Extract a specific number of characters from a text string. LEFT extracts characters from the beginning, RIGHT from the end, and MID from the middle. For example, “=LEFT(A1, 3)” extracts the first three characters from cell A1.
  3. UPPER, LOWER, PROPER: Change the case of text. UPPER converts text to uppercase, LOWER to lowercase, and PROPER to title case (first letter of each word capitalized). For example, “=UPPER(A1)” converts the text in cell A1 to uppercase.
  4. TRIM: Removes extra spaces from text, leaving only a single space between words. For example, “=TRIM(A1)” removes excess spaces from the text in cell A1.
  5. LEN: Returns the number of characters in a text string. For example, “=LEN(A1)” calculates the length of the text in cell A1.

Date and Time Functions

Excel’s date and time functions enable you to perform calculations and conversions involving dates and times. Some of the most useful date and time functions are:

  1. TODAY: Returns the current date. For example, “=TODAY()” displays today’s date in a cell.
  2. NOW: Returns the current date and time. For example, “=NOW()” displays the current date and time in a cell.
  3. DAY, MONTH, YEAR: Extract the day, month, or year from a date. For example, “=MONTH(A1)” returns the month of the date in cell A1.
  4. DATEDIF: Calculates the difference between two dates in days, months, or years. For example, “=DATEDIF(A1, B1, “d”)” calculates the number of days between the dates in cells A1 and B1.
  5. EDATE: Returns the date that is a specified number of months before or after a given date. For example, “=EDATE(A1, 6)” returns the date six months after the date in cell A1.

Basic Excel Formulas List

How to Create a Formula in Excel?

Formulas in Excel are expressions that perform calculations or operations on your data. To create a formula, begin by typing an equal sign (=) in the cell where you want the result to be displayed. Then, enter the appropriate function, cell references, and/or values, separated by mathematical operators (+, -, , /). Press Enter to complete the formula, and Excel will automatically calculate the result. For example, to multiply the values in cells A1 and B1, you would enter “=A1B1”.

Relative vs. Absolute Cell References

When using cell references in formulas, it’s important to understand the difference between relative and absolute references:

  • Relative references (e.g., A1) adjust automatically when a formula is copied to other cells. For example, if you copy a formula with a relative reference from cell C1 to C2, the reference will change from A1 to A2.
  • Absolute references (e.g., $A$1) do not change when a formula is copied. To create an absolute reference, use dollar signs before the column letter and row number. This is useful when you want a formula to always refer to a specific cell, regardless of its location in the worksheet.

Basic Excel Formulas for Beginners

Here is a list of basic Excel formulas that are useful for beginners:

  1. SUMIF: Calculates the sum of cells in a range that meet a specified condition. For example, “=SUMIF(A1:A10, “>10″, B1:B10)” adds the values in cells B1 through B10, but only if the corresponding value in cells A1 through A10 is greater than 10.
  2. COUNTIF: Counts the number of cells in a range that meet a specified condition. For example, “=COUNTIF(A1:A10, “>=5″)” counts the number of cells in the range A1 to A10 with values greater than or equal to 5.
  3. VLOOKUP: Searches for a value in the first column of a table and returns a corresponding value from another column in the same row. For example, “=VLOOKUP(“Apple”, A1:B10, 2, FALSE)” searches for the word “Apple” in the first column of the range A1 to B10 and returns the corresponding value from the second column.
  4. HLOOKUP: Similar to VLOOKUP, but searches for a value in the first row of a table and returns a corresponding value from another row in the same column. For example, “=HLOOKUP(100, A1:G5, 3, FALSE)” searches for the value 100 in the first row of the range A1 to G5 and returns the corresponding value from the third row.
  5. IF: Evaluates a condition and returns one value if the condition is true and another value if the condition is false. For example, “=IF(A1>10, “Yes”, “No”)” checks if the value in cell A1 is greater than 10; if it is, the formula returns “Yes”, otherwise, it returns “No”.

Basic Excel Formulas for Beginners: Tips and Best Practices

  1. Start with Simple Formulas: As a beginner, it’s essential to start with simple formulas and gradually progress to more complex ones. This will help you build a solid foundation in Excel and gain a better understanding of how different functions work together. Once you’re comfortable with basic formulas, you can explore more advanced functions and techniques to further enhance your skills.
  2. Organize Your Data: Proper organization of your data is critical for effective data analysis and accurate calculations. Ensure that your data is structured consistently, with each row representing a unique record and each column containing a specific type of data. Use descriptive headers for your columns to make it easier to understand and work with your data.
  3. Use Excel Templates: Excel offers various pre-built templates that can save you time and provide a starting point for your projects. These templates cover a wide range of tasks, such as budgeting, project management, and data analysis. To access Excel templates, click on the “File” tab, select “New,” and browse the available templates.
  4. Learn From Others: One of the best ways to improve your Excel skills is to learn from others. Participate in online forums, watch video tutorials, and read blogs to discover new tips and techniques. By engaging with the Excel community, you’ll gain insights into different approaches and best practices that can help you become more proficient in Excel.
  5. Practice Regularly: Practice is key to mastering Excel basics. Set aside time to work on exercises, complete tutorials, and explore new functions. The more you use Excel, the more confident and skilled you’ll become.
  6. Use Excel’s Help Feature: If you’re ever unsure about how to use a specific function or feature, don’t hesitate to consult Excel’s built-in help system. Simply press F1 or click on the “Help” tab in the Ribbon to access a wealth of resources, including articles, step-by-step guides, and examples.

By following these tips and best practices, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the basics of Excel and unlocking the full potential of this powerful tool. Remember, practice makes perfect, and as you continue to learn and grow, you’ll find that Excel can truly transform the way you work with data.

Also read: Basic Knowledge of Excel for Your Interviews


Excel is an incredibly powerful and versatile tool that can greatly enhance your productivity and data analysis capabilities. By mastering basic Excel formulas and functions, you’ll be better equipped to manage, analyze, and present your data effectively.

As you continue your journey in learning Excel, keep in mind that practice is key to becoming proficient. Dedicate time to working through exercises, exploring new functions, and seeking out resources to expand your knowledge. With consistent effort and a focus on learning from others, you’ll soon find yourself mastering Excel and unlocking its full potential.

Remember that the Excel community is a valuable resource for learning and growth. Don’t hesitate to engage with fellow users, participate in online forums, and attend workshops or webinars to further develop your skills. As you gain confidence and experience with Excel, you’ll discover new ways to leverage its capabilities to make your work more efficient, accurate, and insightful. Happy learning!

Anand Singh, Mentor at Coding Invaders
Anand Singh, Mentor at Coding Invaders
Hello! I'm Anand Singh, a detail-oriented and passionate data analyst committed to helping businesses thrive. As an engineering graduate from the esteemed Sir Mvit Institute, I bring a strong analytical background to the table. During my tenure at Entuple Technologies as a Data Analyst, I made significant contributions to a Driver Drowsiness Detection system, where I focused on enhancing the model's accuracy. At LICIOUS, I employed MySQL and Python libraries to perform critical data analyses, which informed the development of new product features. Additionally, I managed the company's business dashboard, monitoring growth and reporting on key performance indicators such as DAU, MAU, retention, funnel analysis, and cohorts. Outside of my professional pursuits, I'm an avid cricket player and a lifelong learner, always eager to explore new topics related to data analysis.

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