What's worth mastering in Microsoft Excel

Anny Chih photo

By Anny Chih, 24 hours Vancouver




Proficiency with Microsoft Office programs was once considered a valuable, rare skill but those days have long passed. Knowing when and how to use Office programs is now a requirement for any desk job, and a general understanding of layers will keep the word “Luddite” out of your job title.

It would be awkward to submit an essay as an .xlsx file because Excel is made for math, not English. For the same reason, it would be equally embarrassing to send someone an Excel file with long lists of text written within cells (ex. “red, purple, orange, yellow, green” in cell A1). If the objective is to create a list where items can be counted using a function, each item needs its own cell (ex. “red” in cell A1, “purple” in cell B1, etc). If there is no math involved, Excel should not be involved.

On the flip side, Excel is an ideal program for simple budgets and lists that do require calculations or counts. Common Excel formulas are “=sum()” and “=counta()” for adding and counting. To learn more about specific formulas, click the ‘fx’ icon next to the formula bar in Excel.

Learning every function in every program is unnecessary for most jobs, but there are a few general rules that apply to all programs that are handy to know. One such rule is that everything works in layers.

Inserting a text box, chart, image, or video into a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint file is like dropping a photo on a desk. Items can be layered on top of existing items just like photos can be stacked atop of one another on a desk. When an image isn’t visible on a page, it doesn’t necessary mean it isn’t there; it could just be hidden under something else.

To view what items are on a page, hit Ctrl-A or Command-A on your keyboard to select all the individual items on the page. Or, if you know something is hidden beneath a specific image, right-click that image and select ‘send to back’ to move the image layer to the bottom of your pile.


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