How to Create an Excel Spreadsheet
Submitted by Techwalla Contributor
In The Beginning
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New users to Microsoft Excel commonly wonder how to start and make the most of an Excel spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are used in many ways, including lists and, of course, number crunching. You can sort data, perform calculations, insert comments and print out a nice report. Familiarize yourself with how to create a spreadsheet in Excel and you will take the first step to mastering this powerful application.
The Main Steps
The first step in creating a spreadsheet is to open Excel and save a new file to your computer. Make sure you include an “.xls” extension at the end of the file name. This identifies the file as an Excel spreadsheet. Once you have saved the file, you can begin entering your data. Across the top row, type header information in each column. The headers are column labels that may include things such as First Name, Last Name, Title, Cost, Comments and many others. After you have entered your headers, start entering your data. You’ve just created your first spreadsheet! The next step is to add the bells and whistles.
Add a professional touch to your spreadsheet by completing the Page Setup options. In newer versions of Excel, this menu is under the Page Layout tab; in earlier versions, look under the File menu. You may need to adjust your margins to fit your data. If you have multiple pages, you can condense your report by reducing the margins on the four sides of the spreadsheet. You'll also need to choose an Orientation – select either “portrait” or “landscape.” Generally, the number of columns you have determines which orientation is best suited to a particular project. Use landscape if you have many columns; otherwise, use portrait. You can also choose to have your top row (header info) repeat on every page, which can be helpful. In the Header and Footer detail area (on the "Insert" tab in newer versions of Excel and under the "View" menu in older computers), type the title of the document in the header and the number of pages in the footer.
Doing calculations in Microsoft Excel requires careful entry of your data. One mistake can throw off your entire spreadsheet. Here’s an example of how to do a simple addition/subtraction calculation with currency. In the column where you want to enter a currency value, click the header button at the top of the column to highlight the entire column; then select a currency format for the column. In newer versions of Excel, this can be found by clicking the “$” on the Home tab, and for older computers, by going to “Format Cells” menu. At the bottom of your page, click the last cell in the column, and then click the “Sum” button on the menu bar – it looks like an artsy capital "E." Excel will automatically tally up your number, but it may not highlight the entire column, so you’ll need to click the squares on the edge of the highlight box and drag it up over the data that you want to include. Press “Enter” on your keyboard and your calculation will appear. If you entered negative numbers, those values will be subtracted.
The final step in making a nice spreadsheet is to dress it up with a bit of flare. You can put a border around the edge of the spreadsheet. Highlight the spreadsheet data, open “Format Cells” and go to “Borders.” Choose the type of border you want. You can also color-code each cell or row differently, which can be very helpful when you need to set one type of data off from another. The option to fill a cell with color is in the “Shading” sub-menu under “Format Cells.” Choose your colors. For professional reports, it's best to use muted yellows, greens and blues. You may also want to add a comment to a cell. Click on the cell, click the “Insert” menu and then click “Comment.” A box will appear anchored to the cell and you can type in it.

TIPS & WARNINGS

  • When you are in an Excel cell and you want to do a carriage return, type some data on the first line, then press the “Alt” and “Enter” keys together – you’ll advance down one line without leaving the cell and you can begin typing a second line.
  • To quickly narrow a column, double-click on the edge of the header button and the column will be narrowed to the widest text in that column.
  • If you shrink your margins, be sure your Header and Footer data are still visible outside the box of your spreadsheet.
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