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Excel Functions Made Easy

Stephen L. Nelson, CPA

Excel provides several hundred prebuilt formulas, called functions, that provide a shortcut

to constructing complicated or lengthy formulas. In general, a function accepts input values, or arguments, then makes some calculation and returns a result.

Functions: a Bird’s-eye View

Excel provides financial, statistical, mathematical, trigonometric, and even engineering functions.

Each function has a name that describes its operation. The function that adds values is named SUM, for example, and the function that calculates an arithmetic mean, or average, is named AVERAGE.

Function Structure

Most functions require arguments, or input values, which you enclose in parentheses.

The ROUND function, for example, rounds a specific value to a specified number of decimal places.

To round the value 5.75 to the nearest tenth, you could use the function shown below:

=ROUND

Even if a function doesn’t require arguments, you still need to include the parentheses. For example, the function PI returns the mathematical constant Pi. The function needs no arguments, but you still need to enter it as =PI().

Supplying Data to Functions

Functions can use values, formulas, and even other functions as arguments. Suppose, for example, that you’ve constructed a budgeting worksheet with cells C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5 storing the values 500,50,500,2000, and 250.

In this case, each of the following functions returns the same result, 3300:

=SUM (C1:C5)

=SUM (C1,C2,C3,C4,C5)

=SUM (500,50,500,2000,250)

=SUM (SUM,SUM,SUM,SUM,SUM)

Getting Excel’s Help to Enter Functions

To most easily insert complicated functions and reduce your chance of error, click the Paste Function toolbar button or choose the Insert menu’s Function command. This displays the Paste Function dialog box.

To use the Paste Function dialog box, select the function category from the list on the left and the specific function from the list on the right. Because some of the functions are a little difficult to recognize or distinguish by name, Excel describes what the selected function does at the bottom of the Paste Function dialog box. When you have found the function you want to use, click OK.

Excel then displays the second Paste Function dialog box with text boxes you can use to identify

or supply the arguments required for the function. If necessary, drag this dialog box to another portion of your screen to see the cells you want to include in the function. To enter cell data in an argument text box, click that box and then select the cell or range of cells in your worksheet that goes in the box. Excel highlights the cell or cells you selected with a flashing box. To enter cell data in another argument text box, click that box and select the cell or range in your worksheet that contains the data required for that box. Click OK when you’re finished. Excel pastes the function in the cell.

One Final Function-related Tip

Excel functions also accept worksheet ranges as inputs.

A worksheet range, or range, is simply any rectangular area of the worksheet, such as a two-cell by two-cell square, a five-cell by nine-cell rectangle, or even an entire worksheet.

Excel uses opposite corner cell references and a colon to define ranges. For example, the range of cells from C1 and up to and including C5 is written as C1:C5. And the range of cells from C1 to D2 is written as C1:D2.

Back to more Microsoft Excel Help

About the Author:

CPA Stephen L. Nelson writes about the limited liability company and the S corporation options and taught the Golden Gate Univ. class: Limited liability company versus S corporation.


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