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The Basics Made Easier

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Far and away the best-selling spreadsheet program, Excel still had some rough edges in version 2003. It isn't the easiest of calculation tools to use and is still shunned by many people who could find it very useful, if they got to know it. Version 2007 aims to make that learning process far easier and not just by the introduction of the Ribbon.

A spreadsheet is supremely good at what computers were originally intended for - computing things with numbers. It has much wider application than that, though, from handling virtually any kind of information that works well in a table, to being a structured workspace for organising facts and figures to help them make more sense. A lot of small companies produce all their paperwork as Excel-designed forms and many a student has improved the look of coursework with a well laid-out diagram or chart, owing much to Excel's powers.

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Excel 2007 has had its interface redesigned virtually from scratch, with the primary intention of making it easier to use, by putting more of the frequently used tools on-show. There's far less digging around through tiers of menus and many more functions with their own icons on one of the standard Ribbon tabs.

If you've never used a spreadsheet before, you've missed out. Think of it like a huge, flexible table, where you can put just about anything in each of the pigeonholes, or cells. It could be a number, but it could just as easily be a piece of text, a date or a formula for calculation. All the cells can be made to interact with each other so, at the simplest level, one cell could hold the total of the numbers in a range of other cells.

Excel 2007 makes it particularly easy to enter words and numbers into cells (some of these were available in earlier versions of Excel, too). For example, if you type ‘Monday' into a cell and drag the little back-to-front L handle in the bottom right-hand corner of the cell border right across the next six columns, it produces ‘Tuesday' through to ‘Sunday', automatically.

It works the same with months of the year and can be made to work with virtually any series, so typing a base figure of 100 in one cell can be used to generate all the numbers from 100 up, simply by dragging the handle down, for a column, or right, for a row. When you type into a cell and drag the handle in this way, a small pop-up gives you the opportunity to copy the cell contents literally, or to calculate a series based on it. The Budget Sheet tutorial makes considerable use of this technique.
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The first of our video tutorials is aimed at the home user and shows how to create a domestic budget spreadsheet

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If you want to type the same information into several unconnected cells in a worksheet, you can easily do this by clicking in each, while holding down the Ctrl key. At the end of your selection, go back to the active cell and enter whatever you want to be the contents. Now press Ctrl+Enter and the contents is repeated in all the cells in the selection. To deselect the cells, click in any cell in the worksheet.

If you have a range of cells which should only be able to take a set range of values, you can use data validation to restrict the values that can be entered. There's a video on this which gives you more details and it's useful for speeding things up, as it means you can select values from a list, rather than typing in the same information over and over.

Don't forget, too, that the summation icon, ‘∑', can be used in two ways to create a quick total of the numbers in a column. You can either drag across the column you want to total and then hit the summation button, or click in the cell directly below the column and Excel guesses which cells you want to include.

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