Spreadsheet Data Definition

3 types of spreadhseet data used in Excel

Image of data in a spreadsheet

Vasko/Getty Images 

Spreadsheet data is information that is stored in any spreadsheet program such as Excel or Google Sheets. Data stored in cells in a worksheet can be used in calculations, displayed in graphs, or sorted and filtered to find specific information.

The information in this article applies to Excel versions 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, Excel for Mac, and Excel for Android. It also applies to Google Sheets and most spreadsheet programs.

Types of Spreadsheet Data

Spreadsheets are composed of columns and rows that create a grid of cells. Typically, each cell holds a single item of data. Here's an explanation of the three types of data most commonly used in spreadsheet programs:

  • Text data, also called labels, is used for worksheet headings and names that identify columns of data. Text data can contain letters, numbers, and special characters such as ! or &. By default, text data is left aligned in a cell.
  • Number data, also called values, is used in calculations. By default, numbers are right aligned in a cell. In addition to actual numbers, Excel also stores dates and times as numbers. Other spreadsheet programs treat dates and times as a separate data category. Problems arise when numbers are formatted as text data. This prevents them from being used in calculations.
  • Formulas are mathematical equations that work in combination with data from other cells on the spreadsheet. Simple formulas are used to add or subtract numbers. Advanced formulas perform algebraic equations. Spreadsheet functions are formulas that are built into Excel.

If a value displays as scientific notation (such as 1.47E+10) or as hashtags (#), the value is too long to fit into the cell. To see the whole value, widen the column. Select the cell and drag its edges.

Dates in Excel

Excel automatically recognizes dates entered in a familiar format. For example, if you enter 10/31, Oct 31, or 31 Oct, Excel returns the value in the default format 31-Oct. If you want to learn how to use dates with formulas, see Properly Enter Dates in Excel with the DATE Function.

How to Convert Data Types in Excel

When data is imported from a database or enterprise reporting system, numerical data may be transferred as text. Such situations can create sorting problems. Look for numerical characters that are left aligned in cells. Numeric values should align to the right by default.

There are several ways to change text data into numerical data, but using the VALUE function is usually the easiest solution. See Use Excel's VALUE Function to Convert Text to Numbers.

Conversely, if you want Excel to read numerical characters or a formula as text, just add an apostrophe (') at the beginning of the entry. For example:

  • '10
  • '=TEXT (A1,"0")