Understand the Basic Excel Screen Elements

Learn about the most important parts of the Excel interface

Colleagues working on an Excel spreadsheet

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If you're a relatively new user to Excel and to spreadsheets, you may not know the purpose of everything on the screen. Chances are, you'll find simpler or more effective ways to work with your spreadsheets once you find out more about the interface and its tricks. Here's a quick look at the parts of Excel.

Information in this article applies to Excel 2019, 2016, 2013; Excel for Microsoft 365, and Excel Online.

Excel Screen Elements

The Excel screen is filled with possibilities. After you learn what each section is for, you'll create professional-looking spreadsheets in no time.

When you first open Excel and start with a blank worksheet, this is what you'll see:

Basic Excel window

Across the top of the screen, you'll find the ribbon that contains all of the commands, formulas, and features you'll need to create data-intense spreadsheets. The main part of the screen is the worksheet where you'll enter, edit, and analyze your data.

These are the other parts of the Excel screen you'll use when creating worksheets:

Active Cell

The active cell is recognized by its green outline. Data is always entered into the active cell. Different cells are made active when you select them.

Active cell in Excel

There are several ways to select cells. The method you use depends on the device you use and your preferences. Here are the different ways to select a cell and make it active:

  • Click on a cell with the mouse.
  • Tap a cell with your finger or stylus.
  • Press the arrow keys on the keyboard to move to the cell.

Cells Are the Foundation of Excel

Cells are the rectangular boxes located in the central area of a worksheet. Cells contain labels, data, and formulas. To make worksheet data stand out, cells can be formatted to change the text or to add a fill color. Cells may also contain charts and images that explain the cell data.

Cells in Excel with data and charts

Some important notes to know about cells include:

  • Data entered into a worksheet is stored in a cell. Each cell holds only one piece of data at a time.
  • A cell is the intersection point of a vertical column and a horizontal row.
  • Each cell in the worksheet is identified by a cell reference, which is a combination of letters and numbers such as A1, F456, or AA34.

Column Letters

Columns run vertically on a worksheet, and each one is identified by a letter in the column header such as A, B, C, and D.​

Formula Bar

The Formula Bar is located above the worksheet and displays the contents of the active cell. The Formula Bar is also used to enter or edit data and formulas.

Formula bar in Excel

Name Box

The Name Box is located to the left of the Formula Bar. The Name Box displays the cell reference or the name of the active cell. In the above image, cell G2 is the active cell.

Quick Access Toolbar

The Quick Access toolbar adds frequently used commands to the top of the Excel screen. Make your work go faster by adding commands to the Quick Access Toolbar instead of searching through the tabs to find what you need. To find these frequently used commands, select the Customize Quick Access Toolbar down arrow.

Customize Quick Access Toolbar in Excel


The Ribbon is the strip of buttons and icons located above the worksheet. When clicked on, these buttons and icons activate the various features of the program. First introduced in Excel 2007, the ribbon replaced the menus and toolbars found in Excel 2003 and earlier versions.

Ribbon Tabs

Ribbon tabs are part of the horizontal ribbon menu that contains links to various features of the program. Each tab – such as Home, Page Layout, and Formulas – contains a number of related features and options that are activated by clicking on the appropriate icon.

The File Tab

The File tab was introduced in Excel 2010, replacing the Excel 2007 Office Button, and it works differently than the others tabs. Instead of displaying options on the horizontal ribbon, the File tab opens a different screen.

File Info screen in Excel

Here's what you'll find in the File tab:

  • Items that are related to file and document management, such as opening new or existing worksheet files, saving, and printing.
  • The Options item alters the look of the program. From here, you'll choose which screen elements to display, such as scroll bars and gridlines; it also contains options that activate a number of settings including automatic recalculation of worksheet files and choosing which languages to use for spell check and grammar.

Row Numbers

Rows run horizontally in a worksheet and are identified by a number in the row header.

Sheet Tabs

A new Excel workbooks opens with a single worksheet, but workbooks can contain multiple worksheets. Each worksheet has its own tab at the bottom of the screen. The Sheet tab displays the name of the worksheet, such as Sheet1 or Sheet2.

Sheet names and New Sheet (+) button in Excel

Here are a few tips when working with worksheets:

  • Add sheets to an Excel workbook to keep datasets separate. Select New sheet which is found next to the Sheet tabs. If you prefer keyboard shortcuts, press either Shift+F11 or Alt+Shift+F1 to add a new worksheet to the left of the selected sheet.
  • Rename a worksheet or change the tab color to make it easier to keep track of data in large spreadsheet files.
  • Switch between worksheets to find the data you need. Select the tab of the sheet you want to access. If you prefer to use keyboard shortcuts, press Ctrl+PgUp or Ctrl+PgDn to change between worksheets.

Status Bar

The Status Bar, which runs horizontally along the bottom of the screen, can be customized to display a number of options, most of which display information about the current worksheet, data the worksheet contains, and the keyboard. The keyboard information includes whether the Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Num Lock keys are turned on or off.

Zoom Slider

Located in the bottom right corner of the Excel screen, the Zoom slider changes the magnification of a worksheet when you drag the slider box back and forth, or select Zoom Out or Zoom In located at either end of the slider.

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