Understand the Basic Excel Screen Elements

Know the parts of Excel so you can work more productively

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If you are new to Microsoft Excel, its terminology can be a little challenging. Learn more about Excel's interface and how each part is used to help you get work done. While each version may have variations, much of this information is applicable to earlier versions of Excel.

Instructions in this article apply to Excel 2016, 2013, 2010, and 2007.

The Excel 2016 Interface

Excel 2016 blank spreadsheet.

Some slight variations or colors will occur with older version of Excel.

Active Cell

Excel 2016 active cell highlighted.

When you click on a cell in Excel, the active cell is identified by its green outline. You enter data into the active cell. To move to another cell and make it active, click on it with the mouse or use the arrow keys on the keyboard.

File Tab

Excel 2016 File Options tab.

The File tab made its first appearance in Excel 2010; it is a replacement for the Office Button in Excel 2007. Like the old file menu, the File tab options are mostly related to file management such as opening new or existing worksheet files, saving, printing, and a new feature introduced in Excel 2010: saving and sending Excel files in PDF format.

Formula Bar

Excel 2016 Formula bar highlighted.

The formula bar is 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

Excel 2016 Name box highlighted.

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

Column and Rows

Excel 2016 rows and columns highlighted.

Columns run vertically on a worksheet, and each one is identified by a letter in the column heading.

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

Together a column letter and a row number create a cell reference. Each cell in the worksheet can be identified by this combination of letters and numbers such as A1, F456, or AA34.

Sheet Tabs

Excel 2016 Sheet tabs highlighted.

The ​sheet tab at the bottom of a worksheet tells you the name of the current worksheet, such as Sheet1. 

Switch between worksheets by clicking on the tab of the sheet you want to access.​ Renaming a worksheet or changing the tab color can make it easier to keep track of data in large spreadsheet files.

Add Sheet

Excel 2016 highlighting the add sheet icon.

Right next to the sheet tabs is the add sheet icon represented as a plus (+) sign. Clicking on the Add sheet icon adds another worksheet. (You can also use two keyboard shortcuts to add a new worksheetShift + F11 and Alt + Shift + F1)

Quick Access Toolbar

Excel 2016 Quick Access Toolbar highlighted.

The Quick Access Toolbar can be customized to hold frequently used commands. Click on the down arrow at the end of the toolbar to display the toolbar's options.


Excel 2016 ribbon highlighted.

The Ribbon is the strip of buttons and icons located above the work area. The Ribbon is organized into a series of tabs such as File, Home, and Formulas. Each tab contains a number of related features and options. Introduced in Excel 2007, the Ribbon replaced the menus and toolbars found in Excel 2003 and earlier versions.


Excel 2016 with cells highlighted.

Cells are the rectangular boxes located in the central area of a worksheet. Some 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

Excel 2016 with column headers highlighted.

Columns run vertically on a worksheet, and each one is identified by a letter in the column header.​

Row Numbers

Excel 2016 with row numbers highlighted.

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

Ribbon Tabs

Excel 2016 with ribbon tabs highlighted.

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

Status Bar

Excel 2016 with status bar highlighted.

The Status Bar, which runs horizontally along the bottom of the screen, can be customized 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 LockScroll Lock, and Num Lock keys are turned on or off.
  • The status bar also contains the Zoom slider, which allows users to alter the magnification of a worksheet.

Zoom Slider

Excel 2016 with zoom slider highlighted.

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.

Office Button - 2007

Excel 2007 screenshot.

Available in Excel 2007 only, clicking on the Office Button displays a drop-down menu containing a number of options, such as Open, Save, and Print. The options in the Office Button menu are similar to those found under the File menu in other versions of Excel.