Updated: 03/12/2022 by Computer Hope
Example of a spreadsheet.

A spreadsheet or worksheet is a file made of rows and columns that help sort, organize, and arrange data efficiently, and calculate numerical data. What makes a spreadsheet program unique is its ability to calculate values using mathematical formulas and the data in cells. An example of how a spreadsheet may be utilized is creating an overview of your bank's balance.

Spreadsheet overview

Below is a basic example of what a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet looks like, with all the important features of a spreadsheet highlighted.

Overview of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

In the above example, this spreadsheet is listing three different checks, the date, their description, and the value of each check. These values are then added together to get the total of $162.00 in cell D6. That value is subtracted from the check balance to give an available $361.00 in cell D8.

Difference between a workbook, worksheet, and spreadsheet

Because the terms spreadsheet, workbook, and worksheet are so similar, there often is confusion when trying to understand their differences. When you open Microsoft Excel (a spreadsheet program), you're opening a workbook. A workbook can contain one or more different worksheets that are accessed through the tabs at the bottom of the worksheet your currently viewing. What's often most confusing is that a worksheet is synonymous with a spreadsheet. In other words, a spreadsheet and worksheet mean the same thing. However, most people only refer to the program as a spreadsheet program and the files it creates as spreadsheet files or worksheets.

Examples of spreadsheet programs

Today, Microsoft Excel is a popular and widely used spreadsheet program, but there are also many alternatives. Below lists spreadsheet programs used to create a spreadsheet.

Examples and uses of a spreadsheet

Although spreadsheets are used with anything containing numbers, the uses of a spreadsheet are almost endless. Below are other popular uses of spreadsheets.


Spreadsheets are ideal for financial data, such as your checking account information, budgets, taxes, transactions, billing, invoices, receipts, forecasts, and any payment system.


Form templates can be created to handle inventory, evaluations, performance reviews, quizzes, time sheets, patient information, and surveys.

School and grades

Teachers can use spreadsheets to track students, calculate grades, and identify relevant data, such as high and low scores, missing tests, and students who are struggling.


Managing a list in a spreadsheet is a great example of data that does not contain numbers, but still can be used in a spreadsheet. Great examples of spreadsheet lists include telephone, to-do, and grocery lists.


Spreadsheets can keep track of your favorite player stats or stats on the whole team. With the collected data, you can also find averages, high scores, and statistical data. Spreadsheets can even be used to create tournament brackets and help track fantasy football stats.

How do I enter data in a spreadsheet?

In a spreadsheet, data is entered in one or more cells. To enter data in a cell, follow the steps below.

  1. Click the cell where you want to enter data.
  2. Start typing the data using your keyboard. The data is automatically entered in the selected cell.


  1. Click the cell where you want to enter additional data.
  2. Click in the formula bar, located between the Ribbon and all cells, where you want to start entering the additional data.
  3. Type the data using your keyboard. The data is automatically entered in the selected cell.

Entering data in a spreadsheet cell

To add additional data to a cell that already has data entered in it, follow the steps below.

  1. Click the cell where you want to enter additional data.
  2. Click in the formula bar, located between the Ribbon and all cells, where you want to start entering the additional data.
  3. Type the data using your keyboard. The data is automatically entered in the selected cell where the mouse cursor is placed in the formula bar.

Why not use a word processor instead of a spreadsheet?

Although some uses above could be done in a word processor, spreadsheets have a considerable advantage over word processors when using numbers. It would be impossible to calculate multiple numbers in a word processor and have the value of the calculation immediately appear. Spreadsheets are also more dynamic with the data and can hide, show, and sort information to make processing lots of information easier.

How to tell if a worksheet is active?

An active worksheet is the worksheet that is currently open. For example, in the earlier Excel picture, the sheet tabs at the bottom show "Sheet1," "Sheet2," and "Sheet3," with Sheet1 being the active worksheet. The active tab usually has a white background behind the tab name.

How many worksheets open by default?

In Microsoft Excel 2016 and earlier, and OpenOffice Calc, there are three sheet tabs that open (Sheet1, Sheet2, and Sheet3) by default. In Google Sheets, your spreadsheets starts with one sheet (Sheet1).

In Microsoft Excel 365, by default, there is only one sheet tab that opens (Sheet1) when you create a workbook.

How many worksheets can you have in a workbook?

The default number of worksheets in a new workbook is 255. However, once the file is saved, you can add as many as your hard drive capacity allows.

What is the length limit of a worksheet name?

Not to be confused with the file name, in Microsoft Excel, there is a 31 character limit for each worksheet name.

How are rows and columns labeled?

In all spreadsheet programs, including Microsoft Excel, rows are labeled using numbers (e.g., 1 to 1,048,576). All columns are labeled with letters from A to Z, then with two letters. For example, after the letter Z, the next column is AA, AB, AC, ..., AZ and then incrementing to BA, BB, BC, etc., to the last column XFD.

When working with a cell, you combine the column with the row. For example, the first cell is in column A and on row 1, so the cell is labeled as A1.

Download an example of a spreadsheet file

We've created a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that can be downloaded and opened in any spreadsheet program including Microsoft Excel. This spreadsheet helps illustrate some a spreadsheet capability, formulas, and functions used in a spreadsheet, and lets you experiment with a spreadsheet.

The same spreadsheet is also available on Google Sheets. Visit the link below to open the spreadsheet in view mode in Google Sheets. To edit any of the values, click File and then Make a copy option to save it to your Google Drive.

What did people use before spreadsheets?

Before computerized spreadsheets ledger paper was used to keep track of numbers and make calculations. In fact, many accountants and other individuals continued to use ledger paper even after the release of spreadsheet programs because they didn't trust computers to make proper calculations.

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