Understand the Basic Excel Screen Elements

Learn about the most important parts of the Excel interface

Colleagues working in Excel in office
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If you are relatively new to using Excel for spreadsheets, you might 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.

Excel Screen Elements

Excel 2019 blank worksheet.

The Excel screen has countless possibilities. After you learn the purpose of each section, you'll be cranking out professional-looking spreadsheets in no time.

Active Cell

A green outline denotes the active cell. You always enter data into the active cell. You can make different cells active by selecting them with the mouse or using the arrow keys on the keyboard.

Add Sheet Icon

Clicking on the Add sheet icon next to the Sheet tab at the bottom of the screen adds another worksheet. (You can also use two keyboard shortcuts to add a new worksheet: Shift+F11 and Alt+Shift+F1)


Cells are the rectangular boxes located in the central area of a worksheet. Important notes to know about cells include:

  • Data entered into a worksheet is stored in a cell. Each cell can hold 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 can be 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.​

Formula Bar

Located above the worksheet, this area displays the contents of the active cell. The formula bar can also be used for entering or editing data and formulas.

Name Box

Located next to the formula bar, the Name Box displays the cell reference or the name of the active cell.

Quick Access Toolbar

The Quick Access toolbar allows you to add frequently used commands — click on the down arrow at the end of the toolbar to display available options.


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 you can activate by selecting the appropriate icon.

The File Tab

Microsoft introduced the File tab in Excel 2010, replacing the Excel 2007 Office Button, and it works differently than the other tabs. Instead of displaying options on the horizontal ribbon, selecting the File tab opens a drop-down menu on the left side of the screen.

  • This tab contains items that are mostly related to file and document management, such as opening new or existing worksheet files, saving, and printing.
  • The Options item, which is also located on the menu, is used to alter the look of the program as a whole by choosing which screen elements to display, such as scroll bars and gridlines; it also contains options for activating 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

By default, there is one worksheet in an Excel 2013 file, but you can add additional sheets. The Sheet tab at the bottom of a worksheet tells you the name of the worksheet, such as Sheet1 or Sheet2.

Status Bar

You can customize the Status Bar, which runs horizontally along the bottom of the screen, to display a number of options, most of which give the user information about the current worksheet, data the worksheet contains, and the user's keyboard.

  • Information includes whether the Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Num Lock keys are on or off.
  • The status bar also contains the Zoom slider, which allows users to alter the magnification of a worksheet.

Zoom Slider

  • Located in the bottom right corner of the Excel screen, the Zoom slider is used to change the magnification of a worksheet when you drag the slider box back and forth or click on the Zoom Out and Zoom In buttons located at either end of the slider.

Earlier Versions of Excel

If you aren't using Excel 2013 or later, one of these articles may contain the information you are looking for in order to master your version's interface: