By Ted French. Spreadsheets Expert
Ted French has over fifteen years experience teaching and writing about spreadsheet programs such as Excel, Google Spreadsheets and Lotus 1-2-3. Read more
A spreadsheet application is a computer program such as Excel, OpenOffice Calc, or Google Docs Spreadsheets .
An electronic spreadsheet is a computer program that is used for storing, organizing and manipulating data .
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In this sense, a spreadsheet is a file used to store various types of data.
The basic storage unit for a spreadsheet file is a cell. Each cell can hold a single value or item of data.
Cells are arranged in rows and columns with each row being identified by a number and each column by a letter to make it easier to find and use the stored information.
In Excel an individual spreadsheet file is referred to as a workbook .
A term related to this is worksheet which refers to a single page or sheet in a workbook.
So, to put it all together, a spreadsheet program, such as Excel, is used to create workbook files that contain one or more worksheets containing columns and rows of cells of data.
Data Types, Formulas, and Functions
The types of data that a cell can hold include numbers, text or formulas. Just as in math class, formulas are used for calculations – usually involving data contained in other cells. An electronic spreadsheet includes a number of built in formulas used for common tasks known as functions .
Storing Financial Data in a Spreadsheet
A spreadsheet is often used to store financial data. Formulas and functions that can be used on financial data include:
- Performing basic
mathematical operations such as summing columns and rows of figures.
Finding the average, maximum, or minimum values in a specified range of data.
Spreadsheet Cells and Cell References
When you look at a spreadsheet screen (refer to the example on this page) you see a rectangular table or grid of rows and columns. The horizontal rows are identified by numbers (1,2,3;) and the vertical columns with letters of the alphabet (A,B,C;). For columns beyond 26, columns are identified by two or more letters such as AA, AB, AC.
The intersection point between a column and a row is a small rectangular box known as a cell. A cell is the basic unit for storing data in the spreadsheet.
Because a spreadsheet contains thousands of these cells, each is given a cell reference or cell address to identify it.
The cell reference is a combination of the column letter and the row number such as A3, B6, AA345 .
Other Uses for an Electronic Spreadsheet
Other common operations that a spreadsheet can be used for include:
- graphing or charting data to assist users in identifying data trends.
sorting and filtering data to find specific information.
Information stored in a spreadsheet can also be incorporated into electronic presentations, web pages, or printed off in report form.
The Original "Killer App"
Spreadsheets were the original killer apps for personal computers. Early spreadsheet programs, such as VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3, were largely responsible for the growth in popularity of computers like the Apple II and the IBM PC as a business tool.