How to keep your data clean with Advanced Excel

I had a fun job working as an administrative assistant at a local college for a few years. Part of my job was to process expense reports.

To streamline things, I created a reimbursement form for the professors to fill out after their European trips. However, since this was a language department, most of the professors liked to explain things in lots of words. While why they had to order that specific item at the Deux Magots was an interesting enough story, I just needed to know it was lunch and how much it cost!

I needed to prevent them from trying to write a novel in a cell. How did I do that?

EXCEL ADVANCED

Next Class Offered

Session One: Wednesday April 27 6:00pm-9:00pm

Session Two: Wednesday May 4 6:00pm-9:00pm

Special Course Rate $100.

Visualizing Data Makes Decisions Easier in Advanced Excel

Setting up charts correctly and according to exact specifications is an important part of many papers and studies for my various clients.

However, in my personal case, I find that many people with whom I interact (<ahem!>Husband</ahem!>) respond better to visual representations of data than to the figures themselves.

You know you want to learn advanced charting, and the finer details of formatting, as well as combination charts.

EXCEL ADVANCED

Next Class Offered

Session One: Wednesday April 27 6:00pm-9:00pm

Session Two: Wednesday May 4 6:00pm-9:00pm

Special Course Rate $100.

Pivot Charts are Easy and Shouldn’t Belong in Advanced Excel

People who just want the data in an easy-to-understand format are in love with PivotTables and Pivot Charts.

There’s also this idea that they’re difficult and esoteric, which is why most curricula (including this one) put them in an advanced course.

Thing is, once you catch on to a few basic principles, they’re childishly easy.

Wanna learn how?

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Excel Advanced

This will be a six-week course starting:

Thursday, January 6, 2022

7:00-8:00 pm EST

Tables and Structured Referencing is Beautiful in Intermediate Excel

I was working on some data once, calculating by a lot of criteria whether or not one of 8,000 computers was supposed to get an operating system upgrade, or if we just needed to buy a new computer.  I had a formula to evaluate it based on some 10 or 12 criteria.

Then I hit this one computer and in looking at it, knew that the evaluation in my formula turned up the wrong result.

Oh dear.  (Only I didn’t say “Oh, dear.”)

I was looking at thousands of computers.  What if I got some others wrong?  (Hint:  Yes, the result was wrong in about 150 cases).

I rewrote the formula, tested it against some known results, and yes!  Turned out correctly.

So, I had to copy that formula down an 8,000-row column, didn’t I?

No, I blasted well didn’t.  That’s where the beauty of tables in Excel comes in.

Want to learn that?

Excel Intermediate

Excel Intermediate is a six-week course starting:

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

7:00-8:00 pm EST

Named Ranges in Intermediate Excel Make Calculations Easier

I wish I could brag about how named ranges help me professionally.  They do, but I don’t have a cute story about it.  However, it is easier for me to set up tables and formulas when I think about what each cell’s contents represent rather than the actual cell references.  Seriously, Z3432?  Who cares?  I want to know what it means.

Named ranges also come in handy when you start working with the table objects in Excel.  This concept makes structured referencing that much easier.

Wanna learn how?

Excel Intermediate

Excel Intermediate is a six-week course starting:

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

7:00-8:00 pm EST

Excel Intermediate and Problems with Zip Codes

I was once hired to set up an email list for a wildlife rehabilitation center in New England.

Excel list? Check.

Mail Merge for printing the labels? Check.

Quick job. Easy turn-around. No problem

*grin*

Until…

I printed out thousands of (okay I stopped the job after a couple of sheets…) of Northern New England zip codes with only FOUR digits instead of five.

How did that happen? The zip codes were correct in the spreadsheet!

In session two, we’ll be learning how to avoid errors like this easily as well as other custom masks, advanced formatting themes, merging, and transposition tricks that make the spreadsheet not only useful but easily readable.

Sign up and learn!

Excel Intermediate

This will be a six-week course starting:

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

7:00-8:00 pm EST

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Multivalued Nested IFs and Other Advanced Excel Fun

“We have 8,000 computers to upgrade the operating system. Some of them aren’t licensed for it and will just need to be replaced. Some of them haven’t touched the network and we need to find them. Others? Well, we need to group them by department to upgrade. Oh, since a lot of them are laptops that won’t be on a network fast enough to push the new OS to them, we’re going to need to chase them down and bring them in to User Support to upgrade.”

Could I have kept track of this list and evaluated it using Python or something?

Well, no. I didn’t know Python at the time!

What about SQL? Well, yeah, but no one in the office was using that tool for such a small list.

Can Excel handle it?

At only 8,000 entries? You bet it can!

I created a table with a single-line 13-value nested formula that would evaluate the many criteria needed to track the OS upgrade process.

I even made a dashboard from it for a boss who was really into visual trackers.*

You can learn what I did and how I did it in Session One. This is flat-out my favorite session of Excel to teach. Don’t laugh at me for loving this. I can’t help it.

But maybe you’ll have fun with this, too. C’mon, you know you wanna…

Excel Advanced

This will be a six-week course starting:

Thursday, January 6, 2022

7:00-8:00 pm EST

* PivotTables and PivotCharts won’t be until Session Four

Fifty Pages of One Column and How Excel Classes Can Help You

“I need you to hurry up and get these reports printed for a manager’s meeting!” my boss said as he rushed by one morning a couple of decades ago.

He was new to the office and didn’t know about some traffic patterns or bottlenecks that could happen and much later than I expected. He’d been working on the reports the night before – large, complex spreadsheets. He wanted some handouts.

I liked the guy and wanted to help him impress his new team, so of course, I was happy to rush and get what he wanted printed and copied.

Except…

When I went to print out the report, I got this horrible layout and fifty pages of single-column figures with no way to reference what they meant!

Gulp! I neglected to preview what I was going to print before I sent it to the printer. Anyone want to guess how many pages of a single column spat out uselessly before I caught it?

Session One of Intermediate Excel will teach you how to solve this problem. Want to know what I did?

Sign up for the class.

Oh yeah, this session will also teach 3-D formulas, watch windows, and linking multiple worksheets. I just don’t have any stories about that other than the fact I use spreadsheets with them every working day.

Excel Intermediate

This will be a six-week course starting:

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

7:00-8:00 pm EST

Missing the Obvious

I like to travel by train. I have some friends on a convenient train route that I visit from time to time. In the US, Amtrak an app you can use to buy and display your train ticket. I enjoy it, but oh my word is the connection slow sometimes. I am not always sure of being able to pull up the ticket on time and on demand.

For many years, I have gone ahead and printed the ticket instead “Just in case.”

I was traveling by train this weekend when I had an “I am an idiot” moment.

You see, most smartphones (mine included) can take a screenshot. You know, an image stored on your phone and not subject to the inconsistencies of connection? Simple logic tells you that the ticket is actually that QR code and that this is merely an image, right?

I do not want to admit how many years I have been printing tickets as a backup. When the obvious hit me, I felt very silly, indeed. (Not about being a belt and suspenders sort, mind. I am okay with that character trait)

I tell this story to put a point out there. Now, my job is to explore new technology, teach how to use available tools, and help people manage the new options and ways to do things in their lives. That is literally my job, and even I miss stuff sometimes.

Partially it is simply because there’s so available to you. Anyone can get used to a routine and not think about the alternative options. No-one can know everything. For me, this was a nudge that I was getting complacent and need to monkey with things more. Your lesson might be different, as it is probably not your job to poke buttons, dive for cover, and tell people about it after the dust settles.

Since that likely isn’t your job, don’t feel too bad when someone grabs a device, punches a few buttons and hands you a solution that seems obvious when you look at it. All of us get into mental ruts sometimes, and we do need to jar ourselves out of it.

On the other hand, exploration is good. A bit of monkeying and thinking about alternatives as you use technology is a grand human tradition dating back to the first time one of our ancestors deliberately put a bit of meat on a stick to burn it. You may not always have time, but it is a good idea to run with the urge when you can.

The Basics of a Pivot Table

Pivot tables are awesome. You can take a range of data, apply a little magic to it, then manipulate that data in so many ways to make analyzing and predicting much easier. It’s a great way to compare and manipulate data on the fly in a meaningful matter. They seem like these really difficult and esoteric things to create, and people who can use them well are very much valued. While a Pivot Table in Excel can seem quite complex, I want to let you in on a little secret:

The Basics of a Pivot Table are Easy

The first thing you need is a large range of data. For the purposes of this exercise, we have four friends who are competing for the first six months of 2017 to see who gets the highest step count (fitness-minded fellows that they are…) I’m not going to post the whole table, as 180 entries would just be eye-crossingly boring. And you know, that’s the point. But the source table is going to start something like this:

Date Grady Rich Derek John
1/1/2017 10532 12637 8679 12129
1/2/2017 11329 18430 9393 9221
1/3/2017 12475 16594 14010 13990

So, we have five columns – one for the date and one for each of the contestants. They record their step counts each day. But at the end of the contest, they want to analyze that data to see how they did not only by day, but by month or week.

Without Pivot Tables, this would be a royal pain. So, let’s make one.

To make a Pivot Table

  1. Select any cell in a data rage that includes a heading for each column in the top row.
  2. Activate the Insert tab.
  3. In the Tables group, click the PivotTable button to open the Create PivotTable dialog box.
  4. In the Table/Range box, verify that the range in the box is the range you want. By default, it will display the continuous range that has the selected cell in it, but you can also select the cells with the mouse, if you wish.
  5. Select a location for the PivotTable. You can place the PivotTable in a new or existing worksheet. I almost always go with a new worksheet.
  6. Click OK.

Add Pivot Table Fields

You can add fields to a PivotTable to specify the data you want to display. The Fields of the source data appear in the PivotTable Field List task pane.

To add field drag a relevant field from the top of the PivotTable Field List to one of the four areas at the bottom of the task pane. You can add more than one field to an area, and you don’t need to add all fields to the table.

This example was a fairly simple one, as the relevant headers were merely dates and the contestants’ names. I dragged the Date field to the Row box. I then dragged each of the contestants’ names to the Values box.

As of this writing, the current version of Excel does something pretty nifty and will automatically collapse the dates by month, using the sum of the values as the default.

See the plus signs beside each name? From here, you can click on the plus sign if you want to see the value for each date.

But let’s say you wanted to give this to someone who isn’t really very patient with learning how to manipulate Excel, but still needs to filter the data sometimes. What can you do to make this easy on the user?

Slicers in Pivot Tables

Slicers are just buttons that work as filters. To create a Slicer, go to the Pivot TablesTools|Analyze tab. In the Filter group, click on Insert Slicer.

I’ve chosen Months as the option here because the guys want to see how they do month by month as well as how well they’ve done in total.

When we click on each month, we will then display the data only for that month. The beauty here is that the source data is still safe. You can manipulate how the data is displayed in a Pivot Table, but the source data is always unchanged. You will notice also, that in a Pivot Table, the Grand Total always reflects the data that is being currently displayed – no extra formulas or functions to write. Just change on the fly to display what you need!

These are really just the basics of Pivot Tables. You can get a lot more complex with them, if you want to, and I urge you to play and explore. But these basics should be enough to help amaze your co-workers and excite your boss.

As always, if you have any questions, just comment and I’ll try to help you out.