Seven tips to use Excel like a pro

Excel can be either a godsend or a nightmare from where is no awakening. As John Oliver puts it “nothing good happens in Excel”.  But whether you like it or not, there are times when you necessarily have to work in Excel, so here are a few tips to make it a bit easier to use.

  1. Append text to a cell
    Typing anything in a non-empty cell will erase and overwrite the previous content. But let’s say you need to, for example, proofread the contents of an Excel spreadsheet. Chances are you’re using the arrow keys to navigate the spreadsheet and switching back and forth from your mouse to double-click is annoying and time consuming. Instead, why not pressing F2 to select the cell and move the cursor to the end? Neat, huh?
  2. Insert a function
    Instead of clicking the formula bar and typing =, you can press Shift + F3 to open the function browser. Very useful if you can’t remember the exact name of the function you’re looking for.
  3. Spell check your spreadsheet
    There’s nothing more unprofessional than a document with typos in it. As you may already know, Excel doesn’t mark spelling mistakes in red. It does, however, let you spell check your document by clicking Revision on the Ribbon bar and selecting Spell Check. Alternatively, you can spell check your document by pressing Alt. You will notice that some letters in grey square appeared on your ribbon bar. Type R7 to start spell checking. Unfortunately, this won’t check your grammar, so watch your order word.
  4. Open XML files
    Starting from Office 2007, Microsoft introduced a new file format called Office Open XML, or OOXML for short. This means that documents created in Office are XML files (actually, they’re XML files inside a ZIP archive; if you don’t believe me, try to open a docx file inside 7zip) and Excel can actually show the contents of an XML file. Just click Data in the ribbon bar, then From other sources and select From XML Data Import. You’ll need to select where in the spreadsheet to import the data in, click Ok and voilà! You can even save as an XML file, but make sure you don’t overwrite the original file, or you might be at risk of breaking compatibility with the application that uses that XML file. Still a useful functionality.
  5. Change the font color using your keyboard
    Instead of clicking on the relevant icon, you can press alt and type HRO to open the color selector, then use the arrow keys to select the color you want and press Enter to confirm.
  6. Move charts to their own sheets
    By default, whenever you create a new chart, it will appear on the current sheet. This is okay in most cases, but if you want, you can have your charts in separate sheets to improve readability and to save yourself headaches when printing. Select your chart and, in the Design tab, click on Move Graph. Select New Sheet, enter a relevant name and click Ok. Easy, isn’t it?
  7. Convert a time to seconds (or minutes)
    Excel doesn’t come with a predefined function to convert a time value to seconds or minutes. The good news is that doing so is remarkably easy: all you need to do is multiplying that time times the number of minutes or seconds in a day, that is 1440 or 86400. Just make sure you set the cell’ the calculation takes place in’s format as General.
About Andrea Luciano Damico 137 Articles

Andrea Luciano Damico is a freelance translator from Italy. Among his interests are linguistics, technology, video games, and generally being a chill guy.
He runs Let’s Translate.it and Tech4Freelancers.net.