Help me EXCEL at my new job. (Yes, I went for the obvious one.)
December 16, 2012 8:31 PM   Subscribe

What books or websites should I look at if I want to master Excel?

I started a new job in a totally different field a couple of months ago. We use Excel a lot—not just as a standard tabulating spreadsheet, but to build tools using formulas and multiple tabs and all kinds of things. Right now with the stuff I am doing, the spreadsheets and everything are all developed for me. However, down the road I may have to assemble one myself and I'd like to be prepared for that should it ever come to pass.

These aren't just financial sheets; sometimes they involve decision-making matrices and that kind of thing (which often include financial data, but not exclusively).

What should I read?
posted by synecdoche to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Sophont at 8:46 PM on December 16, 2012

Lots of neat Excel tricks that I've put to good use at
posted by jander03 at 8:49 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not a book or a website, sorry, but I've always found the crew at this mailing list very helpful, and very skilled. For the more advanced stuff, there's also the developers list.
posted by pompomtom at 9:03 PM on December 16, 2012

My IT Lab is a great start.
posted by lotusmish at 12:15 AM on December 17, 2012

I work and live in Excel every day, and I LOVE the Smart Method books. You can download the practice files from his website and he takes you through everything step by step, with the next lesson building on the previous lesson. Work your way through these in your spare time and you will be better than fine.
posted by THAT William Mize at 6:07 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

lotusmish: "My IT Lab is a great start."

No it's not, IMO. It's bug-ridden, has a horrible (HORRIBLE!) interface, is expensive, and is really meant for a classroom situation. I wouldn't willingly give my money to Pearson.

I teach with MyITLab every semester. (Not my choice, believe me.)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:12 AM on December 17, 2012

I've found that the Excel: The Missing Manual series is really nice for people who are generally computer-literate but want to learn Excel in a comprehensive way (read: need to learn the basics as well as more advanced things like formulas, linking, PivotTables, and macros). In fact, I consider myself pretty advanced at Excel but I picked up a bunch of helpful tricks about how to more efficiently do basic tasks in setting up spreadsheets and formulas when I read that book.

There's a ton of information out there about Excel, and I found that most of it was aimed at either totally novice computer users--and devoted way too many pages to really basic stuff like how to save documents--or to people who already knew Excel pretty well but delighted in learning new tricks for specific situations. In general, I found that the free websites tended to be too specific/esoteric to be useful for really getting a handle on big-picture issues about how to use Excel best for different sorts of tasks (and for getting a sense of the wide capabilities of the program). I definitely think it's worth flipping through a few books at the library or a bookstore to find one where you can read a few pages and think, "huh, that's useful" without being bored or thinking "I can't imagine ever using that!"
posted by iminurmefi at 4:26 PM on December 17, 2012

I've been using Excel at work for the past 4.5 years in a financial context and here are the things that "elevated my game", if you will, the most:

1. Learn how to use VLOOKUP. To me it's second nature now but I remember it not making any sense to me at first. So many spreadsheet problems can be solved using VLOOKUP (especially stuff to do with financial data).

2. Literally go through the list of cell formulas and at least become vaguely aware of what they all do. Most of the time it's just a question of knowing that a formula *exists* that makes the difference between struggling for hours and getting something done in minutes.

As iminurmefi said, online resources are very hit or miss and mostly look like they were made in 1997 using the geocities site generator but here's what I've found helpful:

the list of topics has a large list of articles that have helped me out with tougher topics. has a long list of articles as well that I've learned things from.

Here's a list of common problems from Microsoft with Excel formula solutions.

Also, the Peltier Tech site can help with making fancy graphs.
posted by musicismath at 7:25 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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