Glossary of Excel Terminology: A Beginner’s Guide

Excel helps professionals perform simple and complex calculations quickly and accurately, but mastering them can be challenging, especially if you run into jargon. This glossary of Excel terminology is designed to help you learn more about Excel and why you should understand each term as a professional. Read on to learn more about common and advanced Excel terms you need for a task in Excel.

What is Excel?

Excel is a software program created by Microsoft. It has a macro programming language, calculation capabilities, pivot tables and graphics tools. This software program organizes, sorts and visualizes large amounts of data.

Excel is essential in accounting and financial analysis. However, any professional who manages massive amounts of data can also benefit from Excel. Common Excel applications include balance sheets, editorial calendars, data calculators, and budgets.

Who Uses Excel Terminology?

Professionals who regularly use Excel terminology include accountants, data journalists, project managers, financial analysts, store managers, and administrative assistants. As they deal with data and calculations, these professionals need an efficient solution and a clear user interface to perform these tasks. Excel provides the right capabilities for their needs.

List of Excel Terms: Things Every Financial Analyst Should Know

  1. Absolute reference
  2. Active cell
  3. Total calculation
  4. Alphanumeric cell address
  5. array formula:
  6. black square
  7. cell range
  8. cell reference
  9. Column alphabet
  10. Database field
  11. Export button
  12. External database
  13. Formula bar
  14. Formula bar function
  15. merged cell
  16. Turntable
  17. Spreadsheet file
  18. Table filter
  19. Workbook
  20. worksheet

Glossary of Excel Terminology: 5 Common Excel Terms

You can join Excel experts and build a successful career in your field of interest by studying this glossary.

If you’re taking an Excel course, don’t be discouraged by the new terms in the classroom. Below is a list of common terms with definitions to help you have a smooth learning process. This coding terminology cheat sheet will come in handy as you work on becoming an Excel expert.

Active cell

Cells are rectangles or blocks that are found in a worksheet as soon as you open Excel. They show texts, numbers and calculation results. So when you hear your instructor refer to an active cell, it’s the current cell selected or highlighted for editing.

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know About the Active Cell?

Financial analysts work with data and statistics through calculations. Active cells are one of the most basic elements needed to perform such tasks. When you become a financial analyst, you enter data, edit details, and perform calculations in the active worksheet cell or the current cell.

Formula bar

The formula bar is usually located above the column header of the spreadsheet. When a current cell is clicked, the formula bar displays the data in the cell. Cells with formulas display the formula used to calculate the displayed data. For example, an active cell might display 90, but the formula bar shows that 90 is the result of combining data from cells A4 and A7 (where A4 = 40 and A7 = 50). The formula bar displays “=A4+A7”.

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know About the Formula Bar

Financial analysts should evaluate whether they have the correct formula in the worksheet cell when performing calculations. The formula bar helps you do this with great ease. In addition, the formula bar allows you to run multiple commands in Excel by entering formula codes only.

Merged cell

When you combine two or more cells, you get a merged cell. When you perform this arrangement of cells, the merged cell usually only captures the data from the first cell. The contents of the other cells disappear. So you need to be careful and sure about how you rearrange your data when you merge cells.

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know More About Merged Cells

Financial analysts may need to group and cluster data results under row or column labels when presenting data. Unfortunately, Excel does not have an easy solution for grouping data into arrays. The merged cell feature allows us to combine cells to accurately represent how data results should be clustered.


A worksheet is a grid of rows and columns into which you enter information. Microsoft Excel usually has one workbook with multiple worksheets. In each worksheet, you will find a sheet tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet window, which allows you to name that particular sheet.

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know About Worksheets

Financial analysts need to understand a worksheet because it is their workspace. A worksheet allows them to enter, calculate and present data accordingly. In addition, some basic functions in a worksheet help you navigate and retrieve related data from other worksheets in the same workbook.


Technically, a workbook counts as one Excel file. You can use it to collect and save worksheets with related data clusters. With a workbook, you can navigate from one worksheet to another by clicking the desired sheet tab.

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know About Workbooks

A workbook allows financial analysts to organize data accordingly and navigate through different worksheets. For example, if you want to view sales or direct cost data, you can switch between spreadsheets in no time. If you need a new spreadsheet to enter and calculate new data, you can easily create a new worksheet in a workbook.

Excel Terminology Cheatsheet: 5 Advanced Excel Terms

A person holding a tablet while pointing at spreadsheets and charts displayed on it.
Mastering Excel terms such as table filter, calculated field, absolute reference, and external database will help you perform many tasks efficiently as a financial analyst.

Because as a financial analyst you have to master Excel inside out, you have to expand your vocabulary with more complex terms. Learn some important advanced Excel terms below.

matrix formula

An array formula is code that performs multiple calculations at once. It can also perform a single calculation multiple times within a given range of cells. The cell contents in these formulas can come from a row, a column, or an array (row and column).

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know About Array Formulas

An array formula helps financial analysts perform calculations faster and more accurately. For example, financial analysts can apply the array formula to calculate total revenue based on data about fruit products, quantity, and prices. They could find the yield per fruit at the same time, instead of doing calculations for each fruit.

cell range

This refers to a collection of cells identified based on certain criteria. When you place a colon between the start and end cell references, Excel can determine the range you are referencing. For example, B2:B6 instructs the formula to consider all data between cell B2 and cell B6.

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know About Cell Range

Cell Range helps calculate the sum of the cell contents in the selected area. Let’s say that in a set of data, rows represent the sales for items A, B, C, D, and E. Then the columns represent the sales year: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. As financial analysts, the total sales of item C for five years, they can select all cells in row 3 and perform the sum function to that range of cells.

External database

An external database is a collection of chained terms that give you access to data that is not in your Prolog program. It can be stored in three locations including EMS type file, memory or extended memory.

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know About External Databases

An external database helps financial analysts to quickly retrieve or sort data. It also gives multiple employees access to data within transactions. So a company can efficiently have multiple people work or view the same document.

pivot table

A pivot table is a tool that summarizes data. It helps to sort, average and sum cell values ​​automatically. This tool can extract data from one table and display the results in another.

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know About PivotTable

Financial analysts usually need summarized data when calculating sales, prices, or costs in bulk amounts. A pivot table is the most user-friendly and efficient function for this. It can help financial analysts find accurate numbers and summarize calculations.

Table filter

A table filter allows you to quickly find the information you want in a spreadsheet. When you use a filter, you set criteria to determine what data you want to display in the worksheet. It then shows the data that meets your criteria, while the data that doesn’t is temporarily hidden.

Why Financial Analysts Need to Know About Table Filters

When preparing their reports or presentations, financial analysts need to have the right information. So if the charts and graphs in their presentations require filtered data, they can easily do it through the table filter. In addition, they can easily locate the elements in their data, even if there is a lot of information contained in a worksheet.

How can I learn Excel terminology in 2022?

To learn Excel terminology, enroll in Excel coding bootcamp programs, offered by bootcamps such as Thinkful, Simplilearn, and 4Geeks Academy. If you’re on a tight schedule, you can also consider online courses and training on platforms like Udemy that work at your own pace. These learning paths will help you kick-start your career sooner rather than later if you dream of becoming a financial analyst.

Frequently asked questions about Excel

What are the five powerful functions in Excel?

The five powerful Excel functions include SUM, TEXT, VLOOKUP, AVERAGE, and CONCATENATE. SUM is a type of calculation which is a calculation between cells, TEXT lets you format cells containing numbers, and VLOOKUP is used to find or look up information in the worksheet. The AVERAGE function returns the average of the arguments in the formula, while CONCATENATE concatenates two or more strings of text into one string.

What is the VLOOKUP function?

The VLOOKUP function helps you locate specific data in a large table. You can also use it to find phone numbers or names. It helps you save time and energy as you don’t have to scroll all the time to keep track of specific names or data.

What does macro mean in Excel?

A macro is a single action or series of actions that you can perform multiple times in Excel. When you have tasks that you regularly perform in Excel, you can record a macro. It allows you to perform all actions many times via macro.

What is an Excel Ribbon?

An Excel ribbon refers to a strip of icons and buttons placed above the work area. It replaces the menus and toolbars in earlier versions of Excel. It was originally introduced in Microsoft Excel 2007.

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