Today’s tip is about how you can discover some of Excel’s power on your own. Built into Excel are many helpful tools called functions. Functions are shortcuts that make it easier for you to accomplish things that would otherwise require long, complex formulas. For example, the best known function is Sum. You’ve probably used it many times via the Auto Sum button. Without the sum function what we now think of as one of the simplest spreadsheet functions, adding a column of numbers, would be ridiculously tedious as you would need to write a formula referencing every cell you want to add, such as =A1+A2+A3+A4+A5+A6+A7+A8+A9+A10. Sum lets you enter the much simpler formula =Sum(A1:A10).

There are well over 300 functions available in categories such as date, math, financial, text, database, and more. But how do you find them and learn how to use them? That’s where the function wizard comes in. There is a small button to the left of the formula bar with the letters fx on it. That button launches the wizard. You can also get to it from the Formulas tab of the ribbon. The first button on it uses the same fx as the other button but with “Insert Function” under it. The wizard lists all functions by category and gives a brief description of each one. Choose one from the list and you’ll get a new window that walks you through entering the “arguments” for that function.

Arguments are simply the information and options needed to perform the function, such as which cells you want the Sum function to total. Below the list of arguments, an explanation of the currently selected argument will appear. When you need to enter a cell or range of cells in an argument, you can click back on the spreadsheet and select cells without closing the wizard. As you fill in each blank, the formula result shows in the lower left corner. When you click OK, the wizard enters the formula into the current cell for you. If you launch the wizard while your cursor is on a cell that already contains a formula, you will go directly to the list of arguments for that formula so you can make changes to it.

So next time you are thinking “There must be a way in Excel to…” open up the function wizard and you may find exactly what you need.