There are very, very few people on planet Earth who could ever say they’ve completely mastered every intricate little thing about Microsoft Excel(Opens in a new window). It’s the world’s premiere spreadsheet application, and has been the industry standard for over 35 years, replacing the once-venerable Lotus 1-2-3, the first killer app for PCs in the 1980s.
Microsoft Excel’s dominance as a spreadsheet has yet to be truly tested, certainly not by Corel’s Quattro Pro (still sold today in WordPerfect Office(Opens in a new window)), the open-source tools of LibreOffice, or even by Google’s Sheets (the spreadsheet part of Google Drive).
There’s a reason for that. Excel is more than a brand everyone knows: it is powerful. It does just about everything one could ask for in a spreadsheet. The current Excel version, available in Microsoft Office 2019 as part of a Microsoft 365 subscription and other methods, is a PCMag Editors’ Choice.
It’s not just for numbers. Plenty of people populate Excel’s seemingly infinite grids with data, using it as a flat-file database. It can make a relatively effective contact manager or full-blown customer relationship manager. It’s not all that shocking to see people using it as their word processor, despite Microsoft Word typically sitting right next to it. That’s not even mentioning the almost infinite number of excellent looking charts it can generate with the right (or even wrong!) data.
One thing almost every Excel user has in common: not knowing enough. There are so many ways to slice and dice numbers, give that data a new look, and more, it’s impossible to recount them all. Entire books are written on the topic. But it’s easy to master some of the more interesting and intricate tips that will make your time using the program a little easier, and will make you look like a guru of high-tech spreadsheetery. So bone up on any or all of these tricks to excel at Excel.
Let’s say you change not only the wrapping in a cell, but also the entire look—the font, the color, whatever. And you want to apply it to many, many other cells. The trick is the Format Painter tool, the one that is on the Home tab that looks like a paint brush.
Select the sell you like, click the icon, and then click on a different cell to paint in the format—they’ll match in looks, not in content. Want to apply it to multiple tabs? Double-click the paint brush icon, then click away on multiple cells.
Typing into spreadsheet cells can be frustrating, as the default for text you type is to continue on forever, without wrapping back down to a new line. You can change that. Create a new line by typing Alt+Enter (hitting Enter alone takes you out of the cell). Or, click the Wrap Text option under the Home tab at the top of the screen, which means all text wraps right at the edge of the cell you’re in. Resize the row/column and the text re-wraps to fit.
If you’ve got multiple cells that have text overruns, select them all before you click Wrap Text. Or, select all the cells before you even type in them and click Wrap Text. Then whatever you type will wrap in the future.
This is a no-brainer, but so easily overlooked. You start typing a series of repetitive things like dates (1/1/20, 1/2/20, 1/3/20, etc.) and you know you’re in for a long day. Instead, begin the series and move the cursor on the screen to the lower-right part of the last cell—the fill handle. When it turns into a plus sign (+), click and drag down to select all the cells you need to fill. They’ll magically fill using the pattern you started. It can also go up a column, or left or right on a row.
Even better—you can Auto Fill without much of a pattern. Again, pick a cell or cells, move to the fill handle, right-click, and drag. You’ll get a menu of options. The more data you input at first, the better the Fill Series option will do creating your AutoFill options. Check out this Microsoft tutorial.