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Introduction > About This Book

About This Book

Despite the many improvements in software over the years, one feature hasn't improved a bit: Microsoft's documentation. In fact, with Office 2007, you get no printed user guide at all. To learn about the thousands of features included in this software collection, Microsoft expects you to read the online help.

Occasionally, the online help is actually helpful, like when you're looking for a quick description explaining a mysterious new function. On the other hand, if you're trying to learn how to, say, create an attractive chart, you'll find nothing better than terse and occasionally cryptic instructions.

The purpose of this book, then, is to serve as the manual that should have accompanied Excel 2007. In these pages, you'll find step-by-step instructions and tips for using Excel's most popular features, including those you may not even know exist.


This book is based on Excel 2007: The Missing Manual (O'Reilly). That book is a truly complete reference for Excel 2007, covering every feature, including geeky stuff like XML, VBA, ERROR.TYPE( ) functions, and other things you'll probably never encounter—or even want to. But if you get really deep into Excel and want to learn more, Excel 2007: The Missing Manual can be your trusted guide.

About the Outline

This book is divided into two parts, each containing several chapters.

  • Part 1: Worksheet Basics. In this part, you'll get acquainted with Excel's interface and learn the basic techniques for creating spreadsheets and entering and organizing data. You'll also learn how to format your work to make it more presentable and how to create slick printouts.

  • Part 2: Worksheet Power. This part introduces you to Excel's most important feature—formulas. You'll learn how to perform calculations and create formulas using Excel's built-in functions. You'll also learn how to search, sort, and filter large amounts of information using tables. And to top things off, you'll learn about the wide range of different chart types available and when it makes sense to use each one.

About → These → Arrows

Throughout this book, you'll find sentences like this one: "Choose Insert → Illustrations → Picture." This a shorthand way of telling you how to find a feature in the Excel ribbon. It translates to the following instructions: "Click the Insert tab of the toolbar. On the tab, look for the Illustrations section. In the Illustrations box, click the Picture button." Figure I-10 shows the button you want.

Figure I-10. In this book, arrow notations help to simplify ribbon commands. For example, "Choose Insert → Illustrations → Picture" leads to the highlighted button shown here.


As you saw back in Figure I-3, the ribbon adapts itself to different screen sizes. Depending on the size of your Excel window, it's possible that the button you need to click won't include any text. Instead, it shows up as a small icon. In this situation, you can hover over the mystery button to see its name before deciding whether to click it.

Contextual tabs

There are some tabs that only appear in the ribbon when you're working on specific tasks. For example, when you create a chart, a Chart Tools section appears with three new tabs (see Figure I-11).

Figure I-11. Excel doesn't bother to show these three tabs unless you're working on a chart, because it's frustrating to look at a bunch of buttons you can't use. This sort of tab, which appears only when needed, is called a contextual tab.

When dealing with contextual tabs, the instructions in this book always include the title of the tab section (it's Chart Tools in Figure I-11). Here's an example: "Choose Chart Tools | Design → Type → Change Chart Type." Notice that the first part of this instruction includes the tab section title (Chart Tools) and the tab name (Design), separated by the | character. That way, you can't mistake the Chart Tools | Design tab for a Design tab in some other group of contextual tabs.

Drop-down buttons

From time-to-time you'll encounter buttons in the ribbon that have short menus attached to them. Depending on the button, this menu might appear as soon as you click the button, or it might appear only if you click the button's drop-down arrow, as shown in Figure I-12.

When dealing with this sort of button, the last step of the instructions in this book tells you what to choose from the drop-down menu. For example, say you're directed to "Home → Clipboard → Paste → Paste Special." That tells you to select the Home tab, look for the Clipboard section, click the drop-down part of the Paste button (to reveal the menu with extra options), and then choose Paste Special from the menu.

Figure I-12. Excel gives you several options for pasting text from the clipboard. Click the top part of the Paste button to perform a plain-vanilla paste (with all the standard settings), or click the bottom part to see the menu of choices shown here.


Be on the lookout for drop-down arrows in the ribbon—they're tricky at first. You need to click the arrow part of the button to see the full list of options. When you click the other part of the button, you don't see the list. Instead, Excel fires off the standard command (the one Excel thinks is the most common choice) or the command you used most recently.

Dialog box launchers

As powerful as the ribbon is, you can't do everything using the buttons it provides. Sometimes you need to use a good ol' fashioned dialog box. (A dialog box is a term used in the Windows world to describe a small window with a limited number of options. Usually, dialog boxes are designed for one task and they aren't resizable, although software companies like Microsoft break these rules all the time.)

There are two ways to get to a dialog box in Excel 2007. First, some ribbon buttons take you there straight away. For example, if you choose Home → Clipboard → Paste → Paste Special, you always get a dialog box. There's no way around it.

The second way to get to a dialog box is through something called a dialog box launcher, which is just a nerdified name for the tiny square-with-arrow icon that sometimes appears in the bottom-right corner of a section of the ribbon. The easiest way to learn how to spot a dialog box launcher is to look at Figure I-13.

Figure I-13. As you can see here, the Clipboard, Font, Alignment, and Number sections all have dialog box launchers. The Styles, Cells, and Editing sections don't.

When you click a dialog box launcher, the related dialog box appears. For example, click the dialog box launcher for the Font section and you get a full Font dialog box that lets you scroll through all the typefaces on your computer, choose the size and color, and so on.

In this book, there's no special code word that tells you to use a dialog box launcher. Instead, you'll see an instruction like this: "To see more font options, look at the Home → Font section and click the dialog box launcher (the small icon in the bottom-right corner)." Now that you know what a dialog box launcher is, that makes perfect sense.

About Shortcut Keys

Every time you take your hand off the keyboard to move the mouse, you lose a few microseconds. That's why many experienced computer fans use keystroke combinations instead of toolbars and menus wherever possible. Ctrl+S, for example, is a keyboard shortcut that saves your current work in Excel (and most other programs).

When you see a shortcut like Ctrl+S in this book, it's telling you to hold down the Ctrl key, and, while it's down, press the letter S, and then release both keys. Similarly, the finger-tangling shortcut Ctrl+Alt+S means hold down Ctrl, and then press and hold Alt, and then press S (so that all three keys are held down at once).

About Clicking

This book gives you three kinds of instructions that require you to use your computer's mouse or laptop's trackpad. To click means to point the arrow cursor at something on the screen, and then—without moving the cursor at all—press and release the clicker button on the mouse (or laptop trackpad). To double-click, of course, means to click twice in rapid succession, again without moving the cursor at all. And to drag means to move the cursor while pressing the button continuously.


As you read this book, you'll see a number of examples that demonstrate Excel features and techniques for building good spreadsheets. Many of these examples are available as Excel workbook files in a separate download. Just surf to, click the link for this book, and then click the "Missing CD" to visit a page where you can download a zip file that includes the examples, organized by chapter.


At, you'll find news, articles, and updates to the books in the Missing Manual series.

But the Web site also offers corrections and updates to this book (to see them, click the book's title, and then click Errata). In fact, you're invited and encouraged to submit such corrections and updates yourself. In an effort to keep the book as up-to-date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies of this book, we'll make any confirmed corrections you've suggested. We'll also note such changes on the Web site, so that you can mark important corrections in your own copy of the book.

In the meantime, we'd love to hear your own suggestions for new books in the Missing Manual series. There's a place for that on the Web site, too, as well as a place to sign up for free email notification of new titles in the series.

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