Since its initial release in 1987, Microsoft Excel and the rest of the Office suite have become a productivity staple in more than 1 billion homes and offices across the globe. Some users like to use its spreadsheets to keep track of their personal spending habits and savings goals, while others find it a handy tool to map out vacation plans and plan grocery lists. On a professional level, though, businesses often rely on Excel for a wide range of tasks, including team management, data entry, expense tracking, statistical analysis, and even forecasting.

With the business world’s ever-growing reliance on data, now is a great time for budding professionals and seasoned workers alike to get familiar with Excel’s features beyond data entry and basic formatting.

Microsoft Excel – Excel from Beginner to Advanced

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Excel with this A-Z Microsoft Excel Course. Microsoft Excel 2010, 2013, 2016, Excel 2019 and Office 365 | By Kyle Pew, Office Newb

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If you landed on this blog, chances are you’re interested in getting a deeper understanding of those skills but are unsure of where to start. The good news is that you don’t have to overwhelm yourself with its long list of formulas, shortcuts, and tools to become a pro — just keep reading to get an overview of essential skills for advanced users to know and take your pick of the ones that are most relevant to you. 

Skills

One of the best things about Excel is that it not only comes with a spreadsheet to neatly store your data, but also tons of tools, formulas, and shortcuts that make managing said data stress-free. If it takes you a lot of time to complete a single task, you’ll definitely want to learn these skills and reduce your time spent on data entry to a matter of seconds. 

To begin, let’s take a look at some of the most commonly-used tools that Excel provides. 

1. Data Validation

The ability to neatly organize information within the rows and columns of Excel’s spreadsheets is one contributing factor to its popularity. While you can make manual adjustments to arrange your data to meet your preferences, Excel experts rely on data validation to do a lot of the heavy lifting for them. 

This tool allows you to control user input, which is perfect when sharing workbooks with multiple people. Some common uses for data validation include transforming cells into drop-down lists, adding custom rules, and formatting numbers. For example, you can take advantage of data validation to alert users when they input invalid information. (e.g., entering text in a cell that calls for numbers).

In the image above, the “Allow” field is where you would set your limitations on what type of data is allowed within the selected range of cells. You can access this dialog box by going to the “Data” tab and clicking on “Data Validation” within the ribbon. In total, there are eight different data validation options users can set for any cell. 

2. VBA and macros

Macros are yet another Excel feature that helps users complete tasks more efficiently. If you find yourself doing repetitive tasks that could stand to be automated, macros might be the perfect solution to optimizing your workflow.  In some cases, applying macros can easily turn a potential all-nighter into a quick, two-hour project. Not all employers require this skill, but its reputation for time-saving makes it worthwhile to learn. 

Short for Visual Basic for Applications, VBA is Excel’s programming language. Many of Udemy’s online courses will group VBA and macros together, as VBA allows you to have complete control over macros. And because it can work across multiple Microsoft Office applications, being familiar with VBA code will make you a valuable asset to any data team. 

You can take your first step to learning VBA and macros with a deeper look into what they are and how to use them

3. Statistical analysis

If you plan to work with statistics in Excel, there are specialized tools designed to help you crunch the numbers. Options include finding a correlation between data sets, generating random numbers, and even creating histograms. With Excel doing all of the hard work, you no longer have to worry about performing manual calculations or correcting human errors.  

Some of these items are built into Excel’s functions, but most are available as features of the add-in analysis toolpak. Go to the Data tab and click on the gear icon for analysis tools to make sure you have that resource installed. Now you can start learning some of the functions within it. 

4. Tables, Graphs, and Dashboards

Tables and graphs are an excellent way to visualize your data, and usually don’t take much time to learn. Trying to calculate large sets of data and then draw it all by hand is neither the best use of time, nor practical in workplaces that do everything on a digital screen. 

Imagine you’re the person in charge of tracking the travel expenses for a Fortune 500 company in Excel, and you have to show that data to your colleagues before the end of each quarter. Presenting that information as a list would be incredibly hard to read, especially if there are hundreds of transactions. Your best approach is to create visuals like bar graphs and pie charts to give everyone a quick overview of the company’s spending habits. 

If your work calls for a mix of bar graphs, pie charts, and pivot tables, you should consider using dashboards to illustrate your key metrics. Dashboards can serve as visual reports of your company data and can even be interactive. You can find free and paid templates online — like the one we grabbed from Smartsheet above — or try a Udemy course to learn how to build them yourself. 

Formulas

Excel’s built-in tools are easy to use, save a lot of time, and will get you on the fast track to becoming a pro. Once you have the essentials down, you should ramp up your Excel knowledge with functions and keyboard shortcuts. Much like the skills mentioned above, these formulas take little effort to master and start incorporating into your daily Excel use.

Logical functions

Logical functions can be extremely helpful when different types of data call for different formatting. When applied to a cell, these types of functions will let you know if a condition is TRUE or FALSE, and you can set custom parameters depending on the result. 

Let’s take a look at a few examples. 

5. IF statements 

The IF function returns a result based on whether or not a condition is TRUE or FALSE. For example, a cell can return TRUE if sales exceed $1000 and FALSE if sales do not exceed $1000. This is an excellent choice for teachers grading tests who want to quickly determine if students have passed or failed. 

A MULTIPLE IF statement is when several IF functions are present in a single formula, which can introduce a lot of conditions to filter out nonessential data. Excel also has a function that used IF statements with the SUM function — which we go into detail in our blog on SUMIF statements. To summarize, SUMIF statements trigger Excel to add everything in your spreadsheet if it meets all of your criteria. 

6. NESTED IF

If you have to choose between three binary or more binary choices, then a NESTED IF is helpful. For example, a NESTED IF can return the values of ‘Excellent,’ ‘Fair,’ or ‘Poor’ if an entry meets a certain set of criteria (e.g., larger than $50, smaller than $75)

7. SUMPRODUCT

A fusion of the SUM and PRODUCT functions, SUMPRODUCT multiplies each array in your selection, adds all of the totals together, and displays the answer in your chosen cell. 

8. OR and AND 

Usually part of a larger formula, both of these functions determine whether or not a condition or all defined conditions is true or false, respectively.

Data functions

Data functions help you find exactly what you’re looking for, which is perfect when managing large amounts of data. 

9. VLOOKUP

This function stands for “vertical lookup” and is arguably one of the most powerful Excel charting functions. VLOOKUPs work to look up a value in a large data table and return a corresponding value that’s sitting in the same row. The value you are looking up needs to be in the left-most column, and the value that’s returned has to be in an adjacent column. This works for data tables with column headers.

10. HLOOKUP 

This charting function stands for “horizontal lookup” and works the same way as a VLOOKUP, only it works for data tables with row headers. Instead of returning a corresponding value for a defined column, it gives a corresponding value for a defined row.

Text Functions

These data functions are more straightforward than VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP. Two of the more popular text functions are the CONCATENATE and MID formulas.

12. CONCATENATE 

CONCATENATE combines multiple values from multiple cells and outputs them to a single text string.

13. MID 

The MID function extracts a substring from a defined string. The user would specify the starting position and the number of characters to extract. This formula works well when integrated within larger formulas for more intensive data processing tasks.

14. CHAR 

CHAR takes a number between one and 255 and gives a corresponding character. This is determined based on ASCII values.

15. TRIM

The TRIM functions allow users to move excess spaces from text data, keeping one space in between each word. It is also helpful in removing leading spaces and trailing spaces.

16. EXACT

The EXACT function allows users to compare two pieces of text and determine if they are identical. Matching text returns a ‘TRUE’ value, and differing text returns a ‘FALSE’ value. This is one of the fastest ways to determine if a user altered the text.

17. TEXTJOIN

The TEXTJOIN function works similarly to the CONCATENATE function. However, it has two more features — it allows users to separate data with a delimiter in between, and it enables users to ignore empty cells in the data list.

18. TEXT

The TEXT function allows users to convert numeric values to text values. For example, it can convert a cell with several numerical values to a percentage, number, decimal, and others with different symbols and separators. One of the more popular applications that comes to mind is converting data to a day of the week, a much quicker process than referring to an actual calendar.

19. LOWER

The LOWER function allows users to convert any text values into lower case text values. This is very useful for text-based functions.

20. UPPER

Like the LOWER function, the UPPER function allows users to convert any text values into upper case text values.

21. PROPER

The PROPER text function allows users to convert any text into a proper case, which consists of each word containing a capitalized first letter, with all remaining letters in lower case. This works great to quickly bulk edit titles.

22. LEFT

The LEFT function allows users to extract the left-most characters from a text string to place them in new cells. Users can define the number of characters extracted. This works great for parsing information, such as addresses (e.g., entering ZIP codes in their own separate column)

23. RIGHT

The RIGHT function works just like the LEFT function in that it extracts the rightmost characters from a text string and places it in a new column.

24. LEN

The LEN function allows users to get a character count. It works great to quickly tell the number of characters for each value in bulk instead of plugging each row’s content into a separate character counter tool.

25. REPT

The REPT function allows users to repeat any text any amount of time. The first argument is the text you wish to repeat, and the second argument is the number of times it should repeat the text.

26. FIND

The FIND function is exactly what the name implies. It allows users to find a particular text value within a larger piece of text. The first argument is the value you want to find, and the second argument is the text you want to find the value in. There is also an optional argument that allows the search to start at any character within the larger piece of text.

27. REPLACE

The REPLACE function allows users to replace text based on a character location. It uses four arguments — the old text to replace values in, the starting position for a replacement, the number of characters to replace, and the last argument is the value you want to replace it with.

28. SEARCH

The SEARCH function allows users to find text within a larger piece of text. It works similar to the FIND function, only the search function is not case sensitive. The first argument finds the word within a cell, the second argument tells the formula where to look, and the third argument (optional) offers a starting position on where to start the search from (expressed in a number of characters).

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29. SUBSTITUTE

The SUBSTITUTE function allows users to find and replace text values. The first argument takes the text we want to locate and replace values in, the second argument is the text to find, and the third argument is the text we want to replace the value with.

Note, this is not a comprehensive list. Exploring each of these functions and applying them to everyday practice will save you a lot of time in even the most intensive data exercises.

30. Array functions

Array functions work to solve specific types of problems. This usually consists of multiple functions that are nested together, with the more popular array functions including IFERROR, AND, INDEX, and MATCH. Another valuable array function is the Transpose function, which allows uses to convert rows to columns and vice versa, effectively switching the axes for your data.

31. Excel shortcuts

Navigating Excel is simple enough, but it can be even easier with shortcuts. Below, you’ll find a list of keyboard shortcuts for both Windows and macOS. A plus sign between the keys means you have to press the keys all at once, while a comma tells you to type them in the order listed. 

Shortcut descriptionHow to enter in WindowsHow to enter in macOS
Closes a WorkbookCTRL + WCOMMAND + W
Opens a WorkbookCTRL + OCOMMAND + O

Reverts to the Home tab
Alt + HNot available for this device.
Saves all of the data in the worksheetCTRL + SCOMMAND + S
Undo selected dataCTRL + ZCOMMAND + Z
Removes the contents of a cellDeleteDelete
Chooses a fill color for the selected cellAlt + H , HNot available for this device.
Aligns cell contents in the centerAlt + H , A , CCOMMAND + E
Navigates to the View tabAlt + WNot available for this device.
Open context menuShift + F10Shift + F10
Navigates to Formula tabAlt + MNot available for this device.
Hides selected rowsCTRL + 9(^) + 9
Hides selected columnsCTRL + 0(^) + 0

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Now that you have an idea of what Microsoft Excel has to offer and which tools best suit your needs, you can move forward with personalizing a lesson plan that will make you stand out in your industry. Whether you plan to do a deep dive at a steady pace or a quick overview, Udemy has tons of resources to set you up for success.

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