Excel How-To Find Things

My first semester teaching Excel, a student asked,

How do you do something in Excel, when you don’t know how to do it.

A profound question.

Two things militate against you being good with computers.

  1. Your own memory – you can learn to do some fairly sophisticated things with Excel. You may however, forget them just when you need them.
  2. As your reputation as a computer expert increases, people will ask you how to do things you don’t know how to do. Being good at figuring out things, fast, will help.

Excel Learning Paths

The “Newlywed game”.

In the Newlywed Game, the host asks a question and the contestants attempt to guess how their spouse will answer the question. Later, the spouses are brought out and they answer the same question. Hilarity ensues.
You can mimic this with Excel. Ask:

If I was designing Excel, and I wanted to add a function which counted the cells in a column, under what menu selection would I put it?
Then you try to second guess the Excel designers and go look for the function.

As you get familiar with Excel this can work better than you’d think. Perhaps you don’t remember exactly where the Count function is, but you remember that it is on the formula menu. You click on the formula menu and you see this:

Which subsection is COUNT on? None seems obvious. Lets try “more functions”.

It turns out COUNT is on the Statistical menu. Not particularly obvious, but maybe you’d remember it from last time.

The other way of finding a function is with the fx box. Click on the fx then type a description of what you are looking for. If we click on the box and enter COUNT we get this:


Plenty of information about COUNT. And, a bonus, we can learn about DCOUNTA, DCOUNT, COUNTIF, COUNTIFS and COUNTA. We might actually need one of these instead of just COUNT.

If you’re serious about learning Excel, you need to follow some of these paths. Treat everything as a learning experience. Of course, if you try to learn too many things, you’ll never get anything done.

Finally, boot up Google:

Which will yield a wealth of information.