After last week’s post about formulas and functions essentials, it occurred to me that people might wonder how they can learn functions on their own.  The way I see it, there are two steps.  The first is to find out what function you need to learn.  The second is to find out exactly how the function works and what the arguments are.  This can all be done through Excel and the Help files.

Step 1

Figuring out what function you need is sometimes harder than learning the function.  There are about a zillion functions in Excel.  Okay, I just looked it up and Excel 2007 has 348 worksheet functions listed in the Help files.  Not quite a zillion, but still more than I will ever memorize.  Here’s how to find out what functions are available and what they do.

Using the Function Wizard in 2003 or 2007

Next to the formula bar, click on the fx button to launch the Function Wizard.  You can type a description of what you want to do and click Go.  Excel will list all the functions related to what you typed in the box below.

Or, you can see every category of functions by dropping down the Select a category list.  Select a category from the list to see all of the functions in that category.

Select a function to see a description of what the function does, and the syntax of the function.

Using the Ribbon in 2007

 Go to the Formulas tab on the ribbon. A button is available for each category of functions. Click on the button to see all the functions available in that category. Hover your mouse over a function to find out what it does.

Step 2

Using the Function Wizard
If you have the Function Wizard open, select the function and click on the Help on this function link at the bottom of the wizard (circled above).

Use the Microsoft Office Web Site
Look at Excel’s list of Excel 2007 Worksheet functions (most are also available in Excel 2003) on the Microsoft Office web site and click on the name of the function you want to learn.  The hyperlink will take you to a page that gives you the syntax for the function and explains the arguments.  It will also give you sample data and the correct function to do the calculation on the sample data.  You can even copy the sample data and paste it into a spreadsheet so you can practice doing the function.

Use the Help Files
Search the Help files for the name of the function and click on the article for the function.  This will give you the syntax for the function, define the arguments, and provide sample data that you can copy into a worksheet and practice on (it’s all exactly the same as what is on the web site).

To search the Help files in Excel 2003, click inside the Type a question for help box in the top right corner and press Enter.

In 2007, click on the question mark in the top right corner, then type your quesiton in the Search box, and press Search.

More Resources:

Videos by the McCombs Training Team:

Videos by Woopid, including some on Excel functions: