What are spreadsheets?

Basically, a spreadsheet is an electronic document in which data is arranged in the rows and columns of a grid and can be manipulated and used in calculations.

A spreadsheet is made of rows and columns that help sort data, arrange data easily, and calculate numerical data. What makes a spreadsheet software program unique is its ability to calculate values using mathematical formulas and the data in cells. A good example of how a spreadsheet may be utilized is creating an overview of your bank's balance. Below is a basic example of what a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet looks like, as well as all the important features of a spreadsheet highlighted.

Sample Spreadsheet Layout

In the above example, this spreadsheet is listing three different checks, the date, their description, and the value of each check. These values are then added together to get the total of $162.00 in cell D6. That value is subtracted from the check balance to give an available $361.00 in cell D8.

Spreadsheet software allows users to organize data in these rows and columns and perform calculations on the data. These rows and columns collectively are called a worksheet. Most spreadsheet software has basic features to help users create, edit, and format these worksheets. 

A spreadsheet file is similar to a notebook that can contain more than 1,000 related individual worksheets. Data is organized vertically in columns and horizontally in rows on each worksheet. Each worksheet usually can have more than 16,000 columns and 1 million rows. One or more letters identify each column, and a number identifies each row. Only a small fraction of these columns and rows are visible on the screen at one time. Scrolling through the worksheet displays different parts of it on the screen.

A cell is the intersection of a column and row. The spreadsheet software identifies cells by the column and row in which they are located. Cells may contain three types of data: labels, values, and formulas. The text, or label, entered in a cell identifies the worksheet data and helps organize the worksheet. Using descriptive labels, such as Gross Margin and Total Expenses, helps make a worksheet more meaningful.

Today, Microsoft Excel is the most popular and widely used spreadsheet program, but there are also many alternatives. A spreadsheet program that can be used to create a spreadsheet for free online is Google Sheets. Another software suite is called OpenOffice, which is free to download and install on your computer. It has a wonderful spreadsheet in it called Calc.

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