When it comes to translating budgets and similar number-based files in Microsoft Excel, spreadsheets can throw up a number of issues for users unfamiliar with the software.

Many of you will share the same exasperation, or even fear, when opening up an Excel file to find that you seemingly need to start from the beginning again with your computer knowledge, especially as most tools and tricks learnt from Microsoft Word don’t appear to apply to the spreadsheet software!

Having asked around the Parallel office, we’ve put together some basic tips to serve as a beginner’s guide.

1. Number Formats

Convert Number to TextThe first thing to remember with Excel is that it was built for numbers rather than words, so the software prioritises numerical data. If you are having trouble entering digits without inadvertently converting them into formulae or if the software seemingly adds decimal places of its own accord, try switching the formatting from “General” or “Number” to “Text”. That way, everything should appear just as you type it.

2. Sheet names and headers/footers

Renaming SheetsSheet names and footers are often quite easily forgotten about, especially after translating a long document, as they don’t necessarily appear on screen or on the printed copy.

Sheet names can be edited quite straightforwardly by double clicking on the text itself, as shown in the tab towards the bottom of the screen.

Headers and footers, although not as easy to find compared to Word, can be edited by clicking on the “View” menu and switching from “Normal” to “Page Layout”.

3. Printing

Everyone’s done it – clicked print before checking the Print Preview mode, leading to pages and pages of one odd column from the edge of a table! There are a number of options to ensure you print just what you need (thereby saving the environment at the same time). Just remember to switch it back to your client’s preferred setting before saving and delivering the file.

Set Print AreaOption 1) Set Print Area

Highlight the cells you require, then under “Page Layout”, select “Print Area” and “Set Print Area”. When you then go to print, only this section should come out.


Scaling Print AreaOption 2) Scaling

After you have reached the Print Preview screen, go to the “No Scaling” button and switch to “Fit All Columns on One Page” or “Fit All Rows to One Page”, as most appropriate. Depending on the layout of your active sheets, it may also help to switch between Portrait and Landscape Orientation at this stage.

4. Spell check

Spell CheckAs mentioned previously, Excel’s main focus is on numbers. Because of this, spelling and grammar are not automatically checked and underlined as you would usually expect to see in Word files. Having a keen eye whilst working on the file is important, but you can still find Microsoft’s usual spell check feature on the far left under the “Review” menu. It’s always worth running it before finalising the file, to be on the safe side.

5. Comments

Comments in ExcelThis spreadsheet software unfortunately doesn’t make its comments as easy to spot as its word processing companion. The important thing here is to look for a small red triangle in the corner of the cell. You can then hover over the cell to read the comment, or select “Show All Comments” under the “Review” menu to ensure the yellow comment boxes are on show all the time and to edit the text.

6. Formulae

AutoSumAlthough it may not be needed as part of the translation, Excel can do an awful lot of mathematics for you! Simply start typing in the cell with an equals sign and use the *, /, +, – and () symbols between figures. Pressing the return key will then complete the your calculation.

For added functionality, use cell coordinates in your sums instead of figures; then, if a number early on in your calculations needs changing, the rest of the arithmetic will change accordingly.

Have a long column of figures that need adding up? In the cell below the last number, just click AutoSum, ensure the relevant cells are highlighted, then press the return key.

Whilst you aren’t expected to do the client’s maths for them, knowing how to tweak incorrect cells or broken formulae might save a headache somewhere along the line!

7. Formatting cells in Excel

Format PainterThis may be an obvious one but, to avoid the ‘fear factor’ of Excel, it’s easy to imagine that the spreadsheet is one large table; you can merge cells, split cells, add or delete rows or columns just as you would with a table in Word. Plus, right-clicking on the cell opens up many more formatting options, enabling you to target each cell with specific formatting. Or, if you want to copy your formatting into a number of cells, simply use the “Format Painter” brush to replicate the formatting elsewhere.

8. Keyboard shortcuts (QWERTY only)

KeyboardNeed to move text on to a new line within the same cell? Alt + Return will enable you to do this.

Need a euro currency symbol? Alt Gr + 4 will add it in.

Do you have any other top tips for Excel that deserve to be shared? Let us know via Twitter or Facebook!
Check out our other blogs on Microsoft Word for our favourite word processing tips! (See here and here)