14 Must Know Terms For Microsoft Excel Beginners

Microsoft Excel Terms for Beginners

Your ads will be inserted here by

Easy Plugin for AdSense.

Please go to the plugin admin page to
Paste your ad code OR
Suppress this ad slot.

Microsoft Excel is a powerful spreadsheet application that helps you to analyze and visualize your data. Excel skills are some of the most sought out skills in the professional world and is a powerful tool to use for organizing data in your personal life.

As an Excel beginner, it can be pretty intimidating at first! That’s ok! We’re here to help!

We have put together a list of the 14 must know terms for excel beginners so that you can become excel literate today!

To make things easier we have put the list in an easy navigable slide deck. If you’d rather scroll through the steps yourself, all the information and pictures will be listed below.

14 Must Know Terms For Microsoft Excel Beginners

1. Spreadsheet

The Spreadsheet in Excel is an electronic ledger consisting of rows and columns that allow you to create, edit, and save data

 2. Worksheet

A worksheet is a computerized spreadsheet or single sheet of cells in Excel.

  • By default in Microsoft Excel on Windows there will be 3 worksheets when opening a new document. On a Mac there is only 1 worksheet that is in the document by default.
    • As you can see in the screenshot, worksheets will be displayed at the bottom of your screen in small tabs.
  • To switch between worksheets, hit “Ctrl”+ page down to go to the next worksheet or page up to go the previous one.
    • You can also click the tabs.

Worksheet in Excel

 3. Workbook

If a spreadsheet or worksheet acts as a page in an electronic ledger, the workbook is the ledger itself. A workbook in excel is a file that is used to store worksheets that hold important data.

Workbook 2 in Excel

4. Cells

The rectangular shaped boxes intersecting the rows and columns where information is inserted and displayed.

Below you can see that the red rectangle is outlining all the cells in columns A-I and rows 1-25. The arrow is point to the first cell in the worksheet A1.

  • To enter a cell, double click on it and you can now enter or edit information.
  • To exit a cell you must click out of it or hit enter
  • You cannot edit the formatting of a cell until you have exited it.

Cells in Microsoft Excel

5. Active Cell

The active cell is the current cell that you have selected to enter data, edit, copy, etc.

In the screenshot the active cell is B:2.

  • The active cell is outlined in a black or light blue box.
  • To change your active cell you can either click to a new cell or navigate to a new cell using your arrow keys.

Active cell in Microsoft Excel

6. Columns

Columns in Excel are cells stacked vertically identified by the letters of the alphabet.

Below you can see the red rectangle is outlining part of column A.

  • Columns move down the alphabet from right to left.
  • To highlight an entire column, click on the corresponding letter at the very top of the worksheet.

Column A in Microsoft Excel

7. Rows

Rows in excel are the cells stacked horizontally that can be identified by numbers on the left side of the worksheet.

The red rectangle in the screenshot is highlighting row 5 for columns A-D.

  • Rows increase in numeric value from the top to the bottom of the worksheet.
  • To highlight an entire row, click on the corresponding number on the far left of the worksheet.

Rows in Microsoft Excel

8. Cell Reference

Your ads will be inserted here by

Easy Plugin for AdSense.

Please go to the plugin admin page to
Paste your ad code OR
Suppress this ad slot.

The cell reference is the column and row used to identify the location of a specific cell.

As you can see, the cell reference for the active cell is B2.

  • The column is represented by a letter in the alphabet in the cell reference
  • The row is represented by a numeric value in the cell reference.
  • The name box will display the active cell reference.

Cell Reference B2 in Microsoft Excel

9. Name Box

The smaller white box that displays the cell reference of the active cell.

In this case the name box is displaying the active cell A1.

  • Located in the top left of your workbook on a Mac and above the worksheet for Windows.
  • Will always display the active cell reference.

Name Box Displaying Cell Reference A1 in Microsoft Excel

10. Formula

A formula in excel is a set of variables used in a specific way to achieve a certain end result.

That may sound kind of vague, but formulas in excel are just like the ones you used in your second grade math class.

In the screenshot, the formula =2+2 gives the result in the active cell of 4.

  • The formula always begins with an “=” sign in Excel
  • Think of a formula like a recipe for a food you’d like to cook.

The formula 2+2 in Microsoft Excel

11. Function

In Excel a function is a formula that has already been created because of the frequency of its use.

You can see that the rectangular box outlines the formula bar where the function for averaging a data set is displayed. Below the formula bar a tan box is displayed while typing to show the arguments that can be used in the function. In this case the number list that you would like to average would be the arguments.

  • Just like a formula, a function always begins with an “=”.
  • After the “=” is the name of the function and then the arguments in brackets.
  • A function can act as shorthand for longer formulas.

Average function in Microsoft Excel

12. Formula Bar

The formula bar is the long rectangular white box that allows you to create, edit, or display your formulas, functions and cell data.

  • The formula bar is identified by the “fx” symbol to its’ left.
  • Will display the formula or function of the cell rather than the cell value.

Excel Formula Bar

13. Range

The range in excel is the group of highlighted cells that can span across rows and columns.

Below we are using the “SUM” function for cells A1:A4, which is the range.

  • The range will have a black or blue border surrounding it.
  • The range can be identified by the cell references of the top left and bottom right cells.
  • The range’s cell references are separated by a “:”.

Range in Microsoft Excel

14. Ribbon

The ribbon is the group of tabs located above your worksheet in your workbook.

The current tab selected on the ribbon is the “Home” tab. You can see this holds most of the functionality to edit the text portion of your data.

  • Consists of Home, Insert, Page Layout, Formulas, Data, Review, View, and Add-Ins tabs.
  • The ribbon is essentially the menu/toolbar in newer versions of Excel.
  • By clicking each tab you can navigate to your different options to use on your data.

Microsoft Excel Ribbon


You’re now excel literate! We’ve covered the 14 terms you truly need to know as an excel beginner to start using the software. If you have any questions or want to know more feel free to leave a comment below!

Do you have any more words that you think our list is missing? Let us know below!

About the author

Computer Tutorials Staff