Spreadsheets -- Terminology



The first step of learning about spreadsheets is understanding the terminology you will encounter as you work through this lesson. The glossary below lists terms that are specific to spreadsheet applications. Terminology that we learned when we looked at wordprocessing (such as copy, paste, clipboard, etc.) also apply to spreadsheet applications.


  1. Absolute Cell Reference: An absolute cell reference is one that does not change when it is copied. To make a cell reference absolute, you must include a $ before the reference (ex: $C$4).The other type of reference is a Relative Reference..

  2. Active Cell: The active cell is the cell in the spreadsheet that is currently selected for data entry. You can change which cell is the active cell by clicking the left mouse button once or using the arrow keys on the keyboard. The current active cell can be identified as being the one that has a darker black border around it. Also, the active cell reference is listed in the Name Box directly above the spreadsheet's column headings.

  3. Anchor Cell: The anchor cell is the first cell that is highlighted in a range. When a range of cells is selected, they appear as highlighted in black. The anchor cell, however, remains white. If only one cell is selected in the sheet, it is the anchor cell.

  4. Bar / Column Chart: A bar or column chart is a style of chart that is used to summarize and compare categorical data. The length of each bar represents the aggregate value (ex: sum) of that particular category. Bars run horizontally and columns run vertically.
  5. Cell: A cell is a rectangular area formed by the intersection of a column and a row. Cells are identified by the Cell Name (or Reference, which is found by combining the Column Letter with the Row Number. For example the cell in Column "C" in Row "3" would be cell C3. Cells may contain Labels, Numbers, Formulas or Functions.

  6. Cell Name: By default, the name of a cell is the cell reference. You may, however, define a particular cell or range of cells with an alternative name. This alternative name can then be used in formulas and functions and provide a quick way to jump to a particular area of the spreadsheet.

  7. Cell Reference: A cell reference is the name of the cell that is found by combining the Column Letter with the Row Number. For example the cell in Column "C" in Row "3" would be cell C3.

  8. Column: Columns run vertically on the spreadsheet screen. An Excel spreadsheet contains 256 columns that are labeled with the letters of the alphabet. When the column labels reach letter "Z" they continue on with AA, AB, AC...... AZ and then BA, BB, BC.....BZ etc.

  9. Column / Bar Chart: A column or bar chart is a style of chart that is used to summarize and compare categorical data. The length of each bar represents the aggregate value (ex: sum) of that particular category. Columns run vertically and Bars run horizontally.

  10. Data: Data refers to the type of information that can be stored in the cells of a spreadsheet. Spreadsheet data types include values (numbers), labels, formulas and functions.

  11. Enter key: The Enter Key on the keyboard is used to accept any data that has been typed in a cell and move the active cell down vertically to the next one in a column.
  12. Fill: Fill is a feature that can be used to quickly copy data from the anchor cell to an adjoining range, updating the data if appropriate. This means that if the anchor cell contains a formula with relative cell references, those references will automatically update relative to their position when copied to a new location. Fill can also be used to automatically populate common lists of data such as days of the week or months. Fill can be used to copy data either horizontally or vertically in a range.

  13. Fill Handle: The fill handle is the small bold square in the bottom right corner of a cell that can be used to copy (fill) data to adjacent cells in the same row or column. When you hover over the fill handle box, the mouse pointer will change to a black plus sign. You may then click the left mouse button, (and hold it down) while selecting the adjacent cells to copy to. Releasing the mouse button will then fill the content.

  14. Filter: Filtering will allow you to quickly find the information that you are looking for in a spreadsheet. When you apply a filter, you control the data that is displayed on the screen by setting criteria. Data contained in rows that don't meet your criteria will temporarily disappear from view when the filter is applied. When the filter is cleared, all of the data will once again appear in the spreadsheet.

  15. Formula: A formula is a spreadsheet data type that will calculate a result and display it in the active cell. A formula is written using cell references and must begin with an equal sign "=" to distinguish it from a label. An example of a formula would be:
    =A3+C3 which would take whatever value was entered into cell A3 and add it to the value that was typed into C3. After typing the formula and pressing the Enter key, the resulting value will be displayed.

  16. Formula Bar: The formula bar appears directly above the column headings of a spreadsheet and will display what has been typed into the active cell. For example, if you click on a cell that contains the formula =A3+C3, the cell itself will show the result of the formula. The formula bar, however, will display what has actually been typed into the cell which, in this case, is =A3+C3.

  17. Freezing Columns and/or Rows: Freezing is a technique that can be used in larger spreadsheets to assist in viewing the information on the screen. If a spreadsheet contains many rows, you can freeze the rows containing your heading labels so that as you scroll down in the sheet the headings stay at the top and line up with the appropriate data. Likewise, if your spreadsheet contains many columns, the leftmost columns may be frozen so that they stay with the data as you scroll to the right.

  18. Function: Functions are built-in formulas that are used to enter either commonly used or very complex formulas. Like formulas, functions begin with an equal sign "=" and use cell references in their format. One commonly used function is the Sum function, which will add up the values in a range. The function: =sum(H2:H25) would add all values contained in cells H2 through H25 and return the result when the enter key is pressed.
  19. Gridlines: Gridlines are the horizontal and vertical lines on the screen that separate cells in a spreadsheet. Gridlines typically do not print unless the option is set in the layout options of the spreadsheet.

  20. Labels: Labels refer to text that is typed into the cells of a spreadsheet. Labels have no numeric value and cannot be used in a formula or function..
  21. Name Box: The name box appears to the left of the formula bar and displays the name of the current cell. Unless you define a cell or range of cells with a specific name, the name box will display the cell reference of the active cell.

  22. Pie Chart: A pie chart is a circular chart that is divided up into sections, each of which represents the numerical proportion of the whole.

  23. Print Area: The print area is used to specify a range of cells that will be printed, rather than printing an entire worksheet. This is particularly useful for very large worksheets with multiple columns and rows.

  24. Print Titles: Print titles are used to repeat column or row titles on each page. That way, if a spreadsheet prints on multiple pages, each page will contain the appropriate headings to identify the data.
  25. Range: A range is a group of cells in a spreadsheet that have been selected. If the cells are all together in a rectangular or square shape, it is an adjacent range. An adjacent range is identified by the cell reference in the upper left and lower right corners of the selection separated by a colon. (Example: A3:B5). In this example, the range would include all cells in the rectangular area formed by beginning the highlighting in cell A3 and dragging down to B5. You can consider the colon as the word "through". In this case, the range would include cells A3 through B5.

    If there are gaps between selected cells (cells are separated by rows or columns) the range is a non-adjacent range. Areas of a non-adjacent range are separated by commas when referenced in a formula. (Example: A3, A4, B5). The comma in a non-adjacent range is like the word "and". In this example, our range would be cells A3 and A4 and B5, but not the cells in between.

  26. Relative Reference: A relative cell reference is one that changes when it is copied. For example, if a formula that contains the cell reference "C4" is copied to the next cell to the right, the reference will change to D4 (updating the column letter). If the same formula is copied down one cell, the reference will change to "C5" (updating the row number). The other type of reference is an Absolute Reference.

  27. Rows: Rows run horizontally on the spreadsheet screen. An Excel spreadsheet contains 16,384 rows which are labeled numerically.

  28. Sheet Tabs: In Microsoft Excel, the sheet tabs appear below the worksheet grid area and allow you to switch from one worksheet to another in a workbook.

  29. Sort: Sorting is used to arrange information in a particular order. When sorting data, you may choose multiple levels of criteria and sort in either ascending or descending order. For example, a spreadsheet of data could be sorted first alphabetically in ascending order by last name and then by first name.
  30. Tab Key -- The tab key on the keyboard is used to accept any data that has been typed in a cell and move the active cell horizontally to the next one in a row.

  31. Values: Values are numeric data that is entered into a cell. When data is formatted as the value type, it can be referred to in formulas and functions and used in calculations.
  32. Workbook: A workbook is a collection of worksheets that are saved together in one file. Individual worksheets can be given descriptive names and you can switch from one worksheet to another by using the sheet tabs that appear beneath the worksheet grid area.

  33. Worksheet: A worksheet is the grid of columns and rows that information is inputted into. In many spreadsheet applications (such as Microsoft Excel) one file -- called a workbook -- can contain several worksheets. Worksheets can be named using the sheet tabs of the bottom of the spreadsheet window. The sheet tabs can also be used to switch from one worksheet to another within a workbook.


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