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Getting Started With Excel Formulas

Use formulas in Microsoft Excel, to calculate results, or simply link to other cells on the spreadsheet. See simple examples below, and click links for specific functions.

formula bar



In Excel, you can use formulas to calculate results, such as the sum of a range of cells. Formulas can be short and simple, such as adding two numbers, or long and complex. Formulas can include one or more of Excel's built-in functions, and advanced users can even create their own functions.

In this tutorial you'll see how to get started, by creating very simple formulas. Once you know the calculationj basics, you can explore the many other function articles on this website, by clicking the links in the More Tutorials section.

Create a Simple Formula

First, we'll create a very simple formula, that adds two numbers.

The formula will go in cell B2 -- that's the cell in row 2, in column B

  1. First, select the cell where you want the formula -- cell B2
  2. Every Excel formula starts with an equal sign, so type an equal sign: =
  3. Then, type the first number:  1
  4. We want to add that to another number, so type a plus sign:  +
    • The + sign is an operator, that tells Excel what to do with the numbers
    • There are other operators, such as multiplication (*), division (/), subtraction (-), and percentage (%)
  5. Type the next number for the formula:  2
  6. Press the Enter key, to complete the formula

simple formula

The cell below the formula should be automatically selected, after you press the Enter key. You'll see the formula result -- 3 -- in cell B2.

simple formula result

Review the Formula

After you press Enter, you can't see the formula in cell B2. To see the formula again, after you've entered it, follow these steps

  1. Select cell B2, which contains the formula
  2. Look in the Formula Bar, just above the column headings.

formula bar

NOTE: If the Formula Bar is not visible, click the View tab on the Ribbon at the top of Excel. Then, add a check mark to Formula Bar.

Edit the Formula

After you create a formula, you might need to revise it. For example, you could change the numbers in the formula, or change the operator - maybe you should multiply (*) the numbers, instead of summing them.

In this example, we'll change it to give the total of 1 and 4.

  1. To edit the formula, after you've entered it, follow these steps
  2. Select cell B2, which contains the formula
  3. Click in the Formula Bar, just above the column headings.
  4. In the Formula Bar, select the 2, by dragging the pointer over it
  5. While the 2 is highlighted, type the number 4, to replace the 2
  6. Press Enter, to complete the change.

edit a formula

Simple Formula With a Function

Next, we'll create a very simple formula, that uses the SUM function, to add the numbers in a range of cells -- from A2 to A6

The formula will go in cell C2

To use the SUM function to get the total for a range of cells, follow these steps:

  1. Select cell C2, and type an equal sign: =
  2. Next, type the function name -- SUM -- , followed by an open bracket.
    • The function name can be typed in upper or lower case, for example: =sum(
  3. After you type the bracket, Excel will show you the required and optional arguments
    • an argument is a piece of information that the function needs.
    • Optional arguments are in square brackets, like [number2] in the screen shot below.

formula arguments

  1. Enter the required arguments (you can type them, or click on cells, to create cell references).
    • For example, to sum cells A2 to A6, select that range of cells on the worksheet, and the range address will appear in the formula: =sum(A2:A6

formula arguments

  1. Type a closing bracket: =sum(A2:A11)
  2. Press Enter, to complete the formula

The formula result will be displayed in the cell.

formula result - total of range

To see the formula again, select the cell, and look in the formula bar.

Formula Entry Tips

Here are 3 quick tips, for entering a formula in Excel.

Press Tab

To start the formula, type an equal sign, and start typing the name of a function. A popup list will appear, showing any functions that match what you've typed.

When the function that you want is highlighted, press the Tab key, to enter it in the cell, along with its opening bracket.

press the Tab key to add function to cell

Enter All Arguments

Before you start typing any of the arguments, press Ctrl+Shift+A to put all the arguments into the cell. The first one is highlighted, so just click on the range that you want to refer to. Then, double-click on the next argument name, and select its range on the worksheet.

argument name selected

Move the Arguments Popup

If that function popup gets in your way, follow these steps to move it:

  • Point to the popup (anywhere except the function name or bold argument name).
  • When the pointer changes to a 4-headed arrow, drag it out of the road.

That tip popup is helpful most of the time, but can be a nuisance if you're trying to click on a column heading.

Enter Formulas Without Equal Sign

In Lotus 1-2-3, formulas could be entered without starting with an equal sign. For example, you could select a cell and type "1+1" and then press Enter. The cell would show 2 as the result

To replicate this feature in an Excel worksheet, you can turn on a Lotus Compatibility setting:

  1. In Excel, click the File tab, at the top left of the Ribbon
  2. Click Options, then click the Advanced category
  3. Scroll to the bottom, and in the Lotus Compatibility Settings section, add a check mark to "Transition formula entry".
    • NOTE: This only affects the sheet that is selected in the drop down list.
  4. Click OK

formula result - total of range

Download the Sample File

Click here to download the sample file for this tutorial. The file is in xlsx format, and does not contain macros.

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Last updated: March 10, 2023 6:43 PM