Basic Excel Formulas Guide

Mastering the basic Excel formulas is critical for beginners to become highly proficient in financial analysis. Microsoft Excel is considered the industry standard piece of software in data analysis. Microsoft’s spreadsheet program also happens to be one of the most preferred software by investment bankers and financial analysts in data processing, financial modeling, and presentation. This guide will provide an overview and list of basic Excel functions.


Once you’ve mastered this list, move on to CFI’s advanced Excel formulas guide!

Basic Terms in Excel


There are two basic ways to perform calculations in Excel: Formulas and Functions.

1. Formulas

In Excel, a formula is an expression that operates on values in a range of cells or a cell. For example, =A1+A2+A3, which finds the sum of the range of values from cell A1 to cell A3.


2. Functions

Functions are predefined formulas in Excel. They eliminate laborious manual entry of formulas while giving them human-friendly names. For example: =SUM(A1:A3). The function sums all the values from A1 to A3.

Five Time-saving Ways to Insert Data into Excel


When analyzing data, there are five common ways of inserting basic Excel formulas. Each strategy comes with its own advantages. Therefore, before diving further into the main formulas, we’ll clarify those methods, so you can create your preferred workflow earlier on.

1. Simple insertion: Typing a formula inside the cell

Typing a formula in a cell or the formula bar is the most straightforward method of inserting basic Excel formulas. The process usually starts by typing an equal sign, followed by the name of an Excel function.

Excel is quite intelligent in that when you start typing the name of the function, a pop-up function hint will show. It’s from this list you’ll select your preference. However, don’t press the Enter key. Instead, press the Tab key so that you can continue to insert other options. Otherwise, you may find yourself with an invalid name error, often as ‘#NAME?’. To fix it, just re-select the cell, and go to the formula bar to complete your function.

Image: CFI’s Free Excel Crash Course.

2. Using Insert Function Option from Formulas Tab

If you want full control of your functions insertion, using the Excel Insert Function dialogue box is all you ever need. To achieve this, go to the Formulas tab and select the first menu labeled Insert Function. The dialogue box will contain all the functions you need to complete your financial analysis.