How to Use Google Sheets

A beginner's guide to Google's spreadsheet system

Google Sheets is a powerful cloud-based spreadsheet application you can use for free so long as you have a Google account. It gives you mostly all of the functionality you'd find in other paid spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel or WPS Office. In this guide you'll learn the basics about how to use Google Sheets.

How to Open Google Sheets

To get started with Google Sheets, you'll need to sign up for a free Google account, and access Google Drive, where you can create and organize your spreadsheets.

Google Drive is where you create, store, and organize all of the Google Sheets spreadsheets that you work with.

  1. Visit the Google Account signup page and work through the wizard to create your free Google Account.

    Screenshot of Google Account signup
  2. Once you have your account ID and password, connect to Google Drive and sign in using your new Google account.

    Screenshot of Google Drive sign-in page
  3. To organize multiple spreadsheets into a single folder, select New in the upper left of the Google Drive window, then select Folder. Using folders is a great way to organize all of your Google Sheets spreadsheets inside of Google Drive.

    If you add a new spreadsheet in your main Google Drive account, it'll place it outside of all folders. Once you accumulate a lot of files there, those spreadsheets can be hard to find. It's always a good idea to organize spreadsheets inside of folders in your Google Drive account.

    The New Folder command

How to Create a Spreadsheet in Google Sheets

You can create a new spreadsheet in Google Sheets in two ways: Either create a blank spreadsheet, or start with a template to save time. Whichever method you use to create a new spreadsheet, it'll open a new window where you can start working inside the document.

Creating a Black Spreadsheet

The first method to create a blank spreadsheet in Google Sheets is to select New in the upper left corner of the Google Drive window, and then select Blank spreadsheet.

Alternatively, right-click anywhere inside a folder, then select Google Sheets > Blank spreadsheet.

The Blank Spreadsheet command under the Google Sheets heading

Using a Spreadsheet Template

To save some time, you can start with a spreadsheet template. To do this select New > Google Sheets > From a template to open a Template Gallery where you can select pre-formatted spreadsheets to get started.

Screenshot of the template gallery in Google Drive

Pre-formatted templates include:

  • Calendars
  • To-do lists
  • Budgets
  • Travel and wedding planners
  • Time sheets
  • Financial statements
  • Much more

How to Edit Google Sheets Data

Editing data in a Google Sheets spreadsheet is very easy. However, there are a few important tips to keep in mind. These tips include how to edit cell data and how to add or delete rows and columns, adding new sheets, and adding charts.

  1. Edit Cells: Select any cell and start typing to enter data. To edit any data already in a cell, double-click the box and place the cursor where you'd like to edit.

    Screenshot of editing cell data in Google Sheets
  2. Move Cells: To move multiple cells, select the first cell and drag to the bottom of the range you want to copy. Press Ctrl+C to copy the highlighted cells. You'll see a dotted blue line appear around the range of cells. Select any other cell where you want to place the range and press Ctrl+V to paste them.

    On a Mac, press Command instead of Control.

    Screenshot of selecting and copying cells in Google Sheets
  3. Insert Rows or Columns: To add or delete a column or row, right-click the number or letter of the row or column you want to add or remove, and then select one of the following options:

    • Delete row or Delete column: Remove the row or column and shift the remaining cells up or left to fill in the gap.
    • Insert 1 above or Insert 1 below: Insert a new row above or below your selected row.
    • Insert 2 left or Insert 1 right: Insert a new column to the left or right of your selected column.

    If you select multiple cells or columns, the options to insert or delete columns or rows changes to delete or insert the number of columns or rows you've highlighted.

    The Insert and Delete row commands
  4. Add new sheet: You can add a new sheet to your Google Sheets spreadsheet file by selecting the + icon at the lower left corner of the window. This will add a new sheet tab to the bottom.

    You can rename your new sheet by selecting the down arrow to the right of the sheet tab name and selecting Rename.

    The Add Sheet command
  5. Add charts and graphs: You can add charts or graphs to your spreadsheets by highlighting the range of cells you want to chart, then selecting Insert Chart in the ribbon. Google Sheets will auto-select the type of chart that makes sense for the data you selected, but you can select the three dots in the upper right corner of the chart to change this and edit the chart.

    The Insert and Edit Chart buttons

Using Formulas in Google Sheets

In Google Sheets, you have access to a library of spreadsheet functions that's just as extensive as anything you'll find in Microsoft Excel.

Using Google Sheets functions, you can average entire rows or columns of cells, find max or min values, or even import data from web pages.

  1. To insert a formula in a Google Sheets spreadsheet, type = (the equal sign). When you start typing the name of a function, you'll see a dropdown list of all available functions that start with those letters.

    You'll see a definition of what the first function does. To see a definition for any of the others, hover over its name with the mouse pointer.

    Screenshot of using functions in Google Sheets
  2. When you type the first opening parenthesis for a function, you'll see a list of parameters for that function and their explanations.

    Screenshot of function parameters in Google Sheets
  3. Once you type the closing parenthesis for the function, press Enter, then you'll see the results for that function appear in the cell.

    Screenshot of function results in Google Sheets

How to Share a Spreadsheet

Once you've created your first spreadsheet, you may want to share it with others. Here are a few ways to share a Google Sheets spreadsheet.

  1. If you already have a spreadsheet open, select File > Share.

    Another way you can share a spreadsheet in Google Sheets is to right-click the spreadsheet file inside of Google Drive, and then select Share.

    The Share command
  2. The Google Sheets Share with others window will open. If you don't want to have to name specific email addresses to share the spreadsheet with, select Copy link. This option lets you provide the link to the spreadsheet via email, instant message, or anywhere else.

    If you leave the default settings for sharing, anyone who has the link to the spreadsheet will be able to view it. If the data is sensitive or you prefer to keep it private, it's better the change this setting and share the spreadsheet with specific people.

    The Copy Link button
  3. To set the spreadsheet as private and share only with specific people, select the dropdown arrow next to can view, then select OFF - only specific people can access.

    The permissions menu and "OFF" option
  4. Next, in the People section, type the email addresses of the people you want to share the spreadsheet with. Select the dropdown arrow next to the pen icon and choose what shared users can do with the spreadsheet.

    • Can edit: The recipient can view, make changes, and leave comments on the spreadsheet.
    • Can view: The person can read the spreadsheet but not make any changes or comments.
    • Can comment: The collaborator can read and leave comments.
    The Edit Permissions button in Google Sheets
  5. Click Send to save the permissions settings and send the invitations.

    The Send button
  6. When you share a spreadsheet, Google Sheets will send emails to all of the people you've shared the sheet with and include the link where they can access it.