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Getting Started with Microsoft Excel XP (2002)

Excel is a Spreadsheet application. Data is entered in a series of blocks, called cells. Excel, like other spreadsheets, allows you to manipulate the data in these cells – you can perform calculations and make graphs, for instance. This introduction is only intended to give you the basics of using Excel. Once you’ve mastered the basics, we invite you to explore its many functions and features on your own.

To Open Excel

Click on the Microsoft Excel icon or launch Excel from the Start menu.
This automatically opens a new document (referred to as a “workbook”).

Setting Up Your Spreadsheet

Page Setup

Click on File and select Page Setup

  • under the page tab, select:
    • paper orientation
      • tall (portrait) or wide (Landscape)
      • click in the circle next to your choice
    • paper size
      • most common choices are letter (8½ x 11) or legal (8½ x 14)
      • click the arrow in the box and choose from the drop-down menu
  • the margins tab allows you to set
    • page margin sizes
      • top, bottom, left, right, header and footer
        • click on the up/down arrows to change by ¼” increments
        • can highlight and type desired size
      • table location on page
        • center horizonally, vertically or both
  • gridlines are chosen under the sheet tab
    • look for the “Print” area
    • click in the box next to Gridlines to enable printing of cell borders
      • also works to remove check mark if you don’t want gridlines
    • click OK to return to the document


You can format an individual cell, a row, column or the entire worksheet

  • select the cell or group of cells you want to format
    • individual cell: click in the cell to highlight it
    • row of cells: click on the number at the left
    • column of cells: click the letter at the top
    • entire worksheet: click in the blank box at the top left of the worksheet, also called the select all box

The default format is “general”

  • to change the format, click on Format, select Cells from the drop-down menu and select the Number tab.
  • select the format you want from the list
    • click once or use the arrow keys to see brief descriptions
    • some formats offer additional sub-choices
    • if you want to enter numbers in the “general” format, you may need to precede the number with an apostrophe (‘)
      • if using dashes, slash marks, etc.
      • if starting a number with a 0 (eg, a ZIP code)
      • if the apostrophe is not used, the application will automatically perform a mathematical calculation on it, or drop the 0

Manually Setting Column Widths

You can change the widths of columns to accommodate the data you are placing in them.

To change the width of a column:

  • place the cursor in the top row (the lettered rows) on one of the bars delineating a side of the column you wish to change
  • the cursor will become a solid bar with arrows pointing in each direction
  • click and drag as follows to modify the column width
    • moving left = narrows column to the left
    • moving right = widens column to the left
    • sizes of other columns are unaffected

Setting Row Height

  • Individual row heights may also be adjusted to accommodate larger font sizes.
    • click and drag the lower line of the row you want to change
      • moving down = increase row height
      • moving up = reduce row height
      • sizes of other rows are unaffected
    • Note that you can set row height for the entire worksheet by clicking in the blank box at the upper left side of the spreadsheet and then:
      • click “Format” in the toolbar
      • select “Row” from the drop down menu
      • select “Height” from the pop-up screen
      • The current row height will be in the box appearing on the screen. Note that this size is in points as used in font sizes.
      • type in the new desired height and click “OK”
    • This may be done at any time.
Inserting Rows and Columns
  • Rows and/or columns may be added at any time if you need to add additional data after a spreadsheet has been created
  • To insert a row:
    • place your cursor in the row below where you want to add a row
    • click “Insert” in the toolbar
    • select “Rows” from the dropdown menu
    • a blank row will appear above the row where your cursor is
    • Note: rows will be renumbered to accommodate the added row
  • To insert a column:
    • place your cursor in the row to the right of where you want the new column
    • click “Insert” in the toolbar
    • select “Columns” from the dropdown menu
    • a blank column will appear to the left of the column where your cursor appears
    • Note: columns will be relettered to accommodate the added column

  • formulas are used to make the program do automatic calculations
  • to begin, select the cell where you want the calculated information to appear
  • hold down the Shift key and tap the F3 key
  • select the type of calculation you want and click OK
  • type in or select a range and click OK
    • the range is the cells you want included in the calculation
    • to manually select, click and drag to highlight
    • to type in a range, use the format <<column letter row number>>
      • eg, A1 – no spaces or punctuation
      • this is called the cell address
      • always work from L-R and top to bottom in designating ranges
      • type a “ . ” between the first and last cells in the range
        • eg, A1.D6
        • may be in the same row or column
          • eg, A1.A16 (same column)
          • C3.E3 (same row)
        • if only one cell is wanted, type the same cell address twice
          • eg, D4.D4

Entering Data

Now that your spreadsheet is set up, you are ready to begin placing the information in the correct cells. This is referred to as entering the data.

  • Place the cursor in the cell where you want the first piece of data to appear.
  • Begin typing
    • Notice that the text appears in both the cell and in the bar at the top.
      • should you wish to make an immediate change (eg, correct a typo), you may use the backspace key
      • once you have left this cell, editing must be made in the editing bar as described below
    • Also notice that formatting does not appear.
      • DO NOT enter decimal points, etc, if you have chosen any format other than “General.”
      • If you have selected a format, these items will appear once you have completed typing the data for this cell.
    • Once you have completed entering the data for this cell, press the Enter key or an arrow key.
      • Notice that the data now appears formatted in the cell.
    • Data may appear across more than one cell if you have not/do not modify column width. However, should you wish to edit you must select the data by clicking on the first cell where the data appears.
      • when the correct cell is selected, the data text will appear in the editing bar
      • place your cursor in the editing bar and make any desired changes
      • press the Enter key. Your changes will now appear in the selected cell.

Sorting Data

You may find that your data is not entered in the order you would like it to appear. The Sort function can save you many hours of work by having the computer organize your data for you, either alphabetically or numerically.

  • Select all data you want to sort
    • select entire rows if have related columns
  • click on the Data tab and select Sort
    • Select the primary column
      • The column you want considered first in the sorting
      • Select how to sort
        • Ascending = A-Z or lowest-highest number
        • Descending = Z-A or highest-lowest number
    • Select any secondary columns, if desired
    • Indicate whether or not a header row is included
      • If header row is selected, first row will be ignored in sort
    • Click OK to begin sorting

Making Changes to Text

The portion of text that you want to modify must be selected before you can make any changes to it. To select, position the cursor in the first cell you want to change, hold down the left mouse button and move to the end of the range to be selected, then let your finger off the mouse button. You will see that the selected text is now highlighted. Note: you can also select an entire row or column, or the complete spreadsheet, as described earlier.

Here’s how to make some of the most common modifications to the selected range:

Changing Fonts: Notice that the default font is Times Roman, size 10 (or 10 point). The larger the "point size," the larger the text will be. Many people prefer 12 point. To change, click on the downward-pointing arrow next to the 10, slide your cursor down the offered options and click on 12 to select the new size. The font window displays the name of the currently selected font (probably Times Roman). Click on the arrow to the right of the window to see and choose from other choices.

Embellishing Text: Choose how you want to modify the text. Press the B icon to make it bold, I to italicize or U to underline. Note that all of these commands are toggle commands, which means that the same command removes these formats.

Justification: Justification is the term used to describe how the data is aligned in the cell. The first icon is for left justified (the normal look of documents), the second is for centered, and the third is for right justified (useful for numbers). Other choices, including vertical placement in the cell, are available by selecting Format from the top line, then Style from the pulldown menu, then clicking the Modify button in the dialog box, then finally on the Alignment tab.

Cutting, Copying and Pasting: You can delete or move text by using the "cut and paste" techniques. First, select the range to be cut or copied by highlighting it as described above. To make a copy of the text without removing the original, click on the two pages icon in the toolbar. If you want to delete it altogether from its original location, use the scissors icon. To paste, move the cursor to the place you want to insert the copied or cut text, click the mouse button and then click on the clipboard icon.


There may be occasions when you want your data to appear in graph format. Please note that each type of graph offers a unique set of options. This section is designed only to give you a very brief introduction. We invite you to explore the many graphing capabilities offered by Excel XP.

Selecting the Format

  • To begin, select (highlight) the data you want to appear in your graph.
  • Click on the Insert button and select Chart
  • Select the chart type from the list on the left side of the box
  • then select a sub-type by clicking on the desired format on the right side
  • Click on the Next button
  • If you have highlighted multiple rows or columns, click on the radio button to indicate how the data should be grouped (ie, rows or columns)

Creating Your Graph

  • Each graph offers a unique set of options for labelling, etc. Click on each tab in turn on the “Chart Wizard” box to create the desired format.
  • When finished entering labels, titles, etc, choose whether to include the graph in the spreadsheet or to save it as a new sheet.

Editing Your Graph

  • To revise labels or make other formatting changes, click on the Chart button and select Chart Options from the drop-down list. Click on the tabs as above and make desired changes.
  • To include additional data (rows, columns or cells) in the chart, click on the Chart button and select Add Data from the drop-down list.
  • To change the data included in the chart, click Chart and select Source Data and enter the new data range.
Saving Your Spreadsheet

To save your document to a diskette, click on the diskette icon in the toolbar. You will be asked to specify where to save it. Place a floppy disk in the drive. Check to make sure that the box next to Save In says 3-1/2 Floppy (A). If it does not, select this from the dropdown menu next to Save In or click on the Floppy Disk icon.

You will also need to give your file a name in the File name: window. The first few words of the document will automatically appear in the window. To change it, highlight the text in the box and type the name you want it to have. Note that multiple word file names are permitted, but may cause problems if you need to open the document in a different format. To avoid future problems, you can use a file name of eight characters (letters or numbers) or less with no punctuation marks.

Click on the Save button to save your document. After the first save, subsequent saves of this document will automatically go to the same file name and overwrite the previous version. Make sure the computer has finished saving your document before closing it or removing the disk. Removing the disk from the drive too soon may damage your document.

Opening a Previously Saved Spreadsheet

To open a file which you have previously saved to a disk, click on the open file folder icon in the toolbar, which will cause a dialog box to appear. You will need to specify where to find the document by clicking on the arrow next to the drive window, selecting 3-1/2 Floppy (A) from the menu and your file from the list of files on that disk.


There are three ways to print:

  • The easiest way to print is to press the printer icon on the toolbar. This command will print one copy of the entire document on the regular printer.
  • If you want to select a portion of the table, may click on File in the top menu bar and select Print from the dropdown menu. This will bring up a dialog box with a number of choices (number of copies, which pages to print, etc.). When finished making adjustments, click OK to send your document to the printer.
  • You may choose to specify (“set”) a print area. To do this:
    • Select the area you want to print, as described under “Making Changes to Text"
    • Click on File > Print Area > Set Print Area
    • Notice that a dotted line will appear around your selected range.
    • From now on, this is the area that will print when you click on the printer icon.
      • To change the print area, either select a new range, or choose File > Print Area > Clear Print Area


If you want to know how to do something, or come across something you don't understand, go to Help on the menu bar. Click on Microsoft Excel Help to bring up the "Assistant". Type your question (or a few words describing what you want to do) and click Search. You can then choose the topic you'd like to look at from a list of options.

May 2006 Copyright © 2013, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (Further Copyright Information)