Home » Posts Tagged "excel"

Top 3 Beginner Excel Mistakes to Avoid

When beginning to use Microsoft Excel, there are several key mistakes that all students should avoid in order to be successful for the long term of a project.  Depending on your industry and specific Excel needs, this list of pitfalls can certainly become a long one. I’ve narrowed down the top 3 mistakes that all beginning Excel users should avoid.   You didn’t set your workbook up for success When you start a Microsoft Excel workbook, you need to do a little bit of project planning. Ask yourself some key questions and you will be able to use the built-in features of Excel much easier.  Questions you should ask include: How much data do I expect to include in this project over the long term? If you know how much data to expect, in terms of columns and rows, it will drastically change how you may organize the workbooks to begin with. For example, if you have data based on a date, you might want to create separate worksheets for each month (12) and an annual summary worksheet for a total of 13 worksheets.  Using this method, your data will remain smaller in size, more manageable and your risk of human error will be much lower. How can I organize the data into the smallest meaningful values? For every field of your data, you should ‘normalize’ the information. Normalized means that your data is in the smallest meaningful values.  A classic example of normalization is how you are going to capture ‘Name’ data on a contact list.  If you accept both First and Last Name into one field called ‘Name’, then how will you sort by Last name in the future?  It will be very difficult.  However, if you break this into two distinct fields, First Name and Last Name, then you have the data normalized and setup for success. Is this workbook pertaining to one subject? If you’re creating workbooks on different subjects, then you should use separate worksheets or workbooks to keep the information organized. One of the worst mistakes in Excel is to try and combine a lot of unrelated data into one worksheet or workbook.  Using Excel formulas and references you can easily tie data together across worksheets, so you should use the tools given to you for better organization of the data. You are not using Excel references properly An Excel reference is simply a way to refer to a cell, worksheet, or workbook by location instead of using constant values. By using references properly, your spreadsheets stay dynamic and, most importantly, accurate.The most common mistake when using references is to not utilize ‘absolute’ references.  By default, all cell references in Excel use a type of reference called a ‘relative’ reference.  This is important to understand because, when a cell reference is relative, the cell reference will change automatically when you copy/paste.An ‘absolute’ reference means that you always point to the same cell no matter what, so copy/paste will not affect the references used.  This a key component of Excel spreadsheet building and you must understand how to utilize effectively to be successful in Excel. You are individually formatting cells When you have your spreadsheet data ready, you should then begin to format it appropriately. However, you don’t need to continually make the same formatting choices over and over.   When you format one cell or range of cells, you can copy that formatting using a tool called the ‘format painter’.  This is essentially a tool to copy/paste the formatting only.  Format painter is a huge time saver.An even more effective formatting technique is to utilize the...

read more

Text Functions Can Help You Master Microsoft Excel

The problems in Microsoft Excel that the average person comes across tend to be similar from one person to the next. While working on a recent project with a client, it occurred to me that there are many text functions that everyone might like to know more about. To start, all Excel functions have the ability to calculate or manipulate your data. Many people think of Excel as a resource to build financial spreadsheets and calculations, but the program can do much more than that. When working with text data, common problems arise such as capitalization issues, additional spaces, removing portions of unwanted data, and combining multiple pieces of data into one to name a few. Focusing on capitalization to start, Excel has three functions to help you. The ‘Upper’ function will turn any source data into all upper-case, the ‘Lower’ function will convert all your source data to lower-case, and the ‘Proper’ function takes any text and forces the first letter to be capitalized with the remaining letters in lower-case. For any of these text functions, you can reference another cell with the source data and display the result in separate cell with the desired case. Another example of text manipulation often arises when you are given data from a third-party system. Let’s say that you have an HR system that generates a CSV file with names and phone numbers. In order to create a list of emails for your company you might want to join the first and last name to create an email address. Using the ‘Concatenate’ function, you can reference several pieces of data and combine them into one. You might use Concatenate to have the first name, an underscore, the last name, and then your company URL (e.g. @example.com), and generate an email for every employee. In this example, you can let Excel save you a ton of time letting the Excel text functions manipulate your data versus entering the email address manually. There are several other useful Excel text functions that you may find helpful in your daily work. However, it can be intimidating to try and learn them all. I would advise any beginner to Excel functions to use the ‘Insert Function’ command where you can learn about these functions in more detail. The ‘Insert Function’ command provides a definition of the function, and a clear definition of any corresponding arguments that the function needs in order to work properly. I recommend this technique to all of my students as a great way to find and understand the right function for you. Don’t be afraid to jump in and try new text or manipulation functions. As always, make a backup copy of your data first, just in case something you do cannot be undone. Most importantly, have fun with Excel and find new ways to let the program do all the heavy lifting with your data. [Originally posted in the Coloradoan on...

read more

Five Excel© Features That Everyone Should Know

Microsoft Excel is just about as famous for being frustratingly difficult as it is for being exceedingly useful. These five tricks will make your data-crunching experience a much more relaxing one. 1. What Day Is It? Excel’s “Today” feature is no doubt a quick way to insert the day’s date into your spreadsheet. If you are not familiar with it, entering =TODAY() into a blank cell puts the day’s date into the cell. A word of warning, though – Even though this seems like it would be a useful tool to track when you input important data into your spreadsheet, the date will automatically update whenever you open the spreadsheet. If you wish to keep a log of when important data was put into your spreadsheet, Ctrl + ; will do just that. If you wish to input the date but not the time, Ctrl + Shift + ; will do the trick. (Extra tip: Inserting =NOW() will insert the day’s date and time into the cell.) 2. Protect Your Formulas! If you have important formulas you do not want others to see (such as how employees’ bonuses are figured) you can prevent Excel from showing that formula when the particular cell is highlighted: On the Excel toolbar click Edit + Go To Click the Special tab to open the Special menu Click Formulas and make sure all four of the options are checked. Click OK and Excel selects every cell that has a formula. Select Format, Cells, and choose Protection Place a check mark next to the Hidden option, and make sure that there is a check mark next to the Locked option. Click OK 3. Take Notes! On the topic of formulas, it is also possible to add hidden text to any particular formula. This is incredibly useful to help remember what each number in the formula represents. For example: you have a budget formula that reads “1000+ 250- 200*2.” If you are having trouble remembering what each number represents, simply add + N() behind the formula. Excel will translate the +N() into 0 and it will not affect your formula. Then you can add in notes (in quotation marks) to jog your memory for the next time you open the spreadsheet. For example: =100*(1+10%)+N(“10% was the projected increase from 2011’s rates″) What this formula is actually doing: =100*(110%)+0 4. Freeze Panes As if number crunching wasn’t already painful enough, it becomes exceedingly difficult as you work farther and farther down or to the right. There is nothing more frustrating than forgetting what each row or column represents, scrolling all the way back up to remember, and then rapidly scrolling back down to begin working again. Luckily, Excel has realized this frustration and included a “freeze pane” feature that will keep a column/or moving as you move in the worksheet. Simply click and select the row below or the column to the right of where you want to freeze. Then, on the Window menu, select Freeze Panes. Viola! You will never forget what you are inputting again. 5. Where Did That Column Go? Oh, There It Is. There are a never-ending amount of situations within Excel when you just may not want to include information that was pertinent to you with others. You may be displaying productivity reports to the office, but you don’t want everyone privy to who exactly it was that somehow managed negative productivity. Excel allows users to hide columns in the spreadsheet before printing and while working. To hide a column: Highlight the columns/rows you want to hide. Click Format, Column, Hide To...

read more

A Simple Mail Merge Can Save You Time

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/6/12] If you have a list of contacts on your computer and are ready to start mailing to a large group of them, then you can put down your pen and let your computer do all the dirty work. With two of the most popular Microsoft programs, Word and Excel, you can quickly and easily create a mail merge system for your contacts. A mail merge is the combination of a data source and a word processing document to produce mailing labels, envelopes, form letters and more. It is an extremely powerful tool that most administrative professionals use to save tons of manual labor time. The way a mail merge works is that you must begin with some kind of data source. This can come in many forms including a table from a database, a list of your Outlook contacts, a CSV file or even a simple Excel spreadsheet. Since most contact applications can export to a spreadsheet format, Excel can be used in a variety of scenarios for your business. Once you have a data source prepared properly, you can open Microsoft Word and begin the mail merge process. This begins with either a blank document or you can even use a pre-existing document. Envelopes and mailing labels come in standard sizes, and Microsoft has these already built into the program, too. By inserting placeholder fields into the mail merge document, you are allowing the program to replace the placeholders with actual values from your data source. This will repeat for every record in your data source. In a form letter example, you also have the option to customize individual letters, just in case you want to send a more personalized message to an individual client. When it is time to print the mail merge document, you simply finalize your merge and advance to print the entire batch. A mail merge is an amazing tool for simple administrative tasks, and the reach of how it might save you time is limitless. So, the next time you need to send those holiday cards to a huge list, check out a mail merge and save yourself some precious time. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

read more

Microsoft Going All In With Windows 8

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 3/30/12] As Apple and Google continue to win over new customers with their sleek, modern products and services, Microsoft has been plotting its next move to keep up in the fast-paced technology world. After years of dominating the operating system market, Windows has recently seen its sales decline because of this tough competition. At the beginning of March, Microsoft unveiled the beta version of its newest competitor in the operating system market: Windows 8. After the failure of Windows Vista, Windows 7 returned some dignity back to the Microsoft operating system brand name. Now, the company is going all in with Windows 8 on its latest attempt to keep up with the newest trends. Windows 8 features a new “Metro” style, dropping the well known “Start” menu that has been in versions of Windows from XP to 7. Windows 8 will be available for both desktop and tablet platforms, and devices can easily connect via a cloud system. For different-sized devices and screens, Windows 8 will automatically scale the content. Apps are in your face in Windows 8 as a major feature as well. The ability to customize the apps you want is provided in a user-friendly experience. Plus, the entire operating system has been optimized for touch screens, tablets and mobile devices of all kinds. Now, you can flick in new apps to the focus of your screen with your finger. A new Forrestor Research report indicates that Apple and Google are still dominating the mobile operating system market. However, Microsoft believes Windows 8 will help bring back some of its faithful customers. No one knows if Microsoft will continue to dominate the operating system market as it has in the past, but Windows 8 is the latest attempt to satisfy hungry tech crowds. Let’s wait and see if Microsoft’s gamble pays off. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

read more