Today I’d like to take some time to walk you through working with spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel. Many of the concepts we will cover can apply to online versions, and even to Google Sheets. However, today we will be focusing on the desktop version of Microsoft Excel.
When you open a blank excel sheet, you are in a huge table with nothing in it. That is where you come in. Excel is very good at sorting and calculating. If you think of Excel like a giant table that can do some fancy things with Math, you’re getting the right idea. If you ever played the Battleship game as a kid, you could think of that. Remember the grid starting in A1? That could also help you visualize what you are doing in Excel. Most of the commands I will give you will be Excel-related commands, which will work regardless of whether or not you are using a screen reader. If a command is screen reader-specific, I’ll indicate that.
Terms You Should Know
I don’t want to drown you in terminology, so I’ll keep this quick and simple. These are the basic terms you’ll need to use Excel like a boss.
- Cell: one square or a table cell. Example: B1.
- Sheet: A table or collection of cells.
- Workbook: A collection of sheets.
- Row: A collection of cells from left to right. Example: a1, B1, C1, and so on.
- Column: A collection of cells from top to bottom. Example: A1, A2, A3, and so on.
- Reference: A Cell that you either move to or select, such as C25.
- Data Range: A grouping of cells that you select. Example: A1 through C10.
- Formula: Any kind of calculation via a range of cells. Example: How much money did I make in a week? Ad numbers in that range of cells to find out.
Column and Row Setup
We are going to make a very simple spreadsheet. It only has two columns, so you won’t get lost. First make sure you are in a blank Excel sheet. You will start on the cell A1.
Now without moving anywhere, type the word Snacks.
Next, press the TAB key. You will now be in cell B1.
Type Cost, and press ENTER.
You are now in Cell A2.
Now we have the two columns set. You can move around the sheet with your four arrow keys. You can also go to a specific cell with the keyboard command CONTROL+G. After pressing this command, type the cell reference such as A1 and press ENTER. Later we will also use this command to select a range of cells. To do this, just type something like A2:B10 and press ENTER. Note the colon between the two cell references. Also, capitalization does not matter here.
Now, before we start entering our snacks and prices, we need to tell the screen reader where the column headers are. You know that they are in cells A1 and B1, but your screen reader doesn’t know that yet.
Make Your Screen Reader Automatically Read Column/Row Headers
If you want your screen reader to read the column headers as you move left/right, regardless of where you are on the sheet, start by going to your first column header. In our case it is A1. Either arrow to A1 or use the Go To command.
If you are using NVDA, press NVDA+SHIFT+C. The NVDA key is either INSERT or CAPS LOCK depending on your settings.
If you would also like to have column A to be read automatically as you arrow down through the rows, make sure you are at A1, then press NVDA+SHIFT+R.
Now for JAWS users, The JAWS Key is also either the CAPS LOCK or the INSERT key. Once you are in the right spot, Press JAWSKEY+CONTROL+ALT+C. This will tell JAWS to speak the column headers across the top.
If you want to make JAWS speak row headers down the A column as well, press JAWSKEY+CONTROL+ALT+R.
These commands will tell your screen reader to speak everything across the top and down the left side of your data. This way as you are arrowing through your sheet, you will not need to keep checking what column/row you are in. Of course, in this case it really doesn’t matter too much, but if you found yourself in a sheet with 20 or 30 columns and 100 rows, this would be crucial to get setup correctly.
Its Snack Time!
For the sake of this simple walkthrough, we are only going to type in three different snacks along with their prices. So, let’s get started—I’m gettin’ hungry!
First move to cell A2. Type BBQ Chips and press ENTER.
You should now be in cell A3. Type Cookies and press ENTER.
You are now in cell A4. Type Brownies and press ENTER.
We are now in cell A5, but we are not creating more snacks. Feel free to keep creating them if you’d like though.
Now we are going to cell B2. For the prices, do not type dollar signs; we’ll have Excel do that for us later.
Type 1.25 and press ENTER.
Now you are in cell B3. Type 1.5 and press ENTER.
Now you are in cell B4. Type 1.75 and press ENTER.
Now you are in Cell B5. Arrow down one more cell to B6. We are going to have Excel automatically calculate the total price of these snacks just so you can see how a very simple formula works.
Press ALT+= (that is ALT+EQUALS), then press ENTER.
You will land in cell B7, so arrow up to cell B6. You should hear 4.5.
The cool thing about this formula is it will automatically recalculate in real time whenever anything in the cost column changes as long as it is above B6. So, if you did enter another snack in cell A5, and a price in cell B5, your total in cell B6 would instantly change. Actually, let’s do that now.
Go to A5, type a snack of your choice, and press TAB.
You are now in B5, so type a price for your snack. When you arrow down to B6, you should see that your total changed. Cool, huh?
Excel does not know that the numbers in the cost column are supposed to be dollars, so let’s change that.
First, we need to tell Excel the cells to interact with. So let’s use the Go To command (CONTROL+G). Type the cell reference: b2:b6 and press ENTER.
Now let’s get into the Format Cells dialog box. To do this, press CONTROL+1 on your numbers row across the top of your keyboard.
Tab once to Category, arrow down to Currency and press ENTER.
You will now be back in your snacks sheet. As you arrow up and down through the Price column, you should now hear dollars and cents as would be appropriate for a snacks price listing.
We are still in the cost column, and we are going to sort the prices from highest to lowest. Navigate to cell B2 and either use your applications key or press SHIFT+F10.
Arrow to Sort or press the letter O.
Now arrow to Sort Largest to Smallest and press ENTER.
You will be back in your sheet, and you will notice that Excel has kindly rearranged your data accordingly.
Let’s try one more sorting function.
Navigate to cell A2.
Get back into your sort menu, but this time you will choose Sort A to Z”. Again, you will notice that your data has been rearranged accordingly, and your snacks are now in alphabetical order.
Ok, you’ve made it! Hopefully you now have a much better idea of using excel in a personal or professional setting. There is of course much more to Excel, but I’ll leave you with this much for now. May all of your spreadsheets be error free!