While Excel has a myriad of uses, it really comes into its own when it comes to calculating numbers. Perhaps you’ve used it to add up a list of numbers or to carry out a multiplication or division? And if you have, you’ve probably used the plus (+), minus (-), multiply (*) or divide (/) symbols.

However, some calculations can become very complicated and long-winded if you try and create them by writing a formula. For example, a calculation such as finding the Average of a group of numbers could become quite long if you were to work it out for yourself. Similarly, if you have 300 items that you want to add up, it would be tedious to write a long formula with 300 calculations.

So, this is where the built-in Functions in Excel come in. These are specially programmed formulas that allow you to perform more complicated calculations much more easily.

Let’s have a look at how this works and at some basic functions.

The structure of a basic function

Because functions are so varied, the details of their construction are unique, but they all follow a similar basic structure.

A function always begins with an Equals sign, followed by the Function name, then the details of the function in brackets. For example:


Where Average is the Function name and the cell references in brackets are the cells to calculate. The content between the brackets will be always be different depending on the function used.

Using Basic functions via the Auto Sum Button

The Auto Sum button contains five commonly used basic Functions. These are SUM, AVERAGE, COUNT Numbers, MAX and MIN.

Figure 1 – Excel has some regularly used functions available from the AutoSum button

To use a basic function using the Auto sum button

  1. Click on the cell where you want the result of the calculation
  2. Go to the Editing group on the Home tab on the ribbon
  3. Click on the AutoSum drop down button
  4. Select the Function you require

Figure 2 – Sum a column using AutoSum

  1. The cells Excel thinks you want to calculate will be highlighted and the Function will appear in the cell – If Excel hasn’t selected the cells you want, click and drag over the ones you do want to include
  2. Press Enter
  3. The answer will be shown in the cell

Magic! I bet you found that easier than you expected. Excel has hundreds of built-in functions based on the same principles, so once you have mastered these basic functions, you’ll have the confidence to move on to these. Excel is your playground, just waiting for you to explore it.

To learn more about Microsoft Excel visit the Excel category of courses on tomorrow’s VA All Courses (tomorrowsva.com)

Or why not take look at the HUB and have access to ALL my courses including any new ones that are added. Always the best value.


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