Software Spotlight: Microsoft Excel

Girls in their dorm

By Dan Heuskin

Published March 8, 2017

MS Excel is free and included with Microsoft Office for UB students, faculty, and staff. So, what can it do for you?



Daniel Heuskin (UB Student, Class of 2017) is originally from Long Island, NY. He is studying English at UB with aspirations to become a teacher or writer. In his free time, he enjoys playing bass guitar, doing nature photography, writing songs and reading.

The Basics

MS Excel is a spreadsheet software with a wide array of tools for organizing data, calculating trends, crunching numbers, and representing data visually with charts, graphs, and other diagrams.

When you open Excel, you’ll be greeted with a grid interface of rows, columns and cells where you can enter any kind of data—numbers, formulas, dates, or text.

Some good news to know up front: you don’t always have to enter your data manually. Excel recognizes the pattern of your data as you enter it, and provides the option of using a convenient Auto Fill feature to fill cells according to the recognized pattern. A one-click forecasting feature, new to Excel 2016, can create forecasts of future trends in your data. 

A graph in Excel

Excel's one-click forecasting

To make things even easier, Excel features a Tell Me search function that will quickly guide you to actions you want to perform and features you want to use. Just type a phrase about what you want to do in the search field, and you’re on your way to learning Excel.

Excel search bar

The "Tell Me" search function

Formulas and Calculations

With Excel, you can define custom formulas to make calculations about your data. Business students might want to calculate figures like quarterly forecasts and corporate reports, while students in the sciences might use Excel’s statistical formulas to perform chi-square tests and variance analyses.

Don’t forget that Excel includes a function library for calculating figures such as standard deviation, interest over time, and Net Present Value. There’s even a formula bar that includes a handy formula search feature. The formula bar will also help you select appropriate cells for your calculations.

Excel Page

Excel's Function Library

Representing your Data

Once you’ve entered all your data, it’s time to select an option for presenting it. You can choose from tables, pie charts, bar graphs, line graphs, bubble charts, radar charts and a variety of other diagrams. But how do you choose the best option?

Excel can help with that too! Excel summarizes your data in previews of chart and graph options, recommending those that fit your data best. By comparing these previews, you can choose the ideal option for illustrating whatever story your data tells.

While a standard chart in Excel updates automatically as you change the data in your spreadsheet, pivot charts provide a more customizable option with interactive filtering controls for quick analysis. 

Excel Pivot Chart

Inserting a pivot chart

When preparing your chart, you can highlight important values using visual cues like colors, bars and icons. This makes it easier for viewers to spot important trends and patterns.

Connected by the Cloud

Excel 2016 provides a number of options for fostering collaboration and keeping everyone on the same page.

You can share your workbooks through cloud services--like your UBbox account, by installing Box for Office (instructions)--allowing other people to view and edit spreadsheets. 

Excel Save As

Saving a document to OneDrive

Once your spreadsheets are in the cloud, you can collaborate with others in real-time using Excel Online. If someone makes a mistake, there’s no need to worry: with Excel 2016’s improved version history, you can even return to earlier drafts.

Excel version history

Excel's Version History