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Basic Spreadsheet Terminology

If you are new to spreadsheets, one of the best places to start is with what a spreadsheet looks like and the terminology surrounding it.

This being the case, we are going to outline the different parts of a spreadsheet and explain each one individually. After you finish reading this post, you will be able to recognize the different aspects and terms related to spreadsheets.

What Is a Spreadsheet?

By definition, a spreadsheet is a computer program that represents information in a two-dimensional grid of data, along with formulas that relate the data.

In other words, a spreadsheet is simply a piece of software that you can use to store information in. You can then manipulate that information in many different ways.

Also, a spreadsheet is typically laid out in a grid like fashion. This means that information is stored in what’s known as cells. These are simply the boxes created by the intersection of rows and columns.

The Different Parts of the Spreadsheet

Now that you know what a spreadsheet is, it is a good idea to get acquainted with the major components you see in your typical spreadsheet.

Here are two different examples for you to look at:

  • A 2019 Excel Workbook titled: My-Workbook
  • A Google Sheets Spreadsheet titled: My-Google-Sheets-Spreadsheet


Below is a display of common spreadsheet terminology within an Excel workbook:

  • Quick Access Toolbar
  • File Name
  • Ribbon Tabs
  • Ribbon

The Quick Access Toolbar is a customizable area of your spreadsheet that you can add desired commands or actions to. For example, you can add the copy and paste actions in this toolbar if you use these often.

The File Name is simply the name of the file.

The Ribbon is just the area of the spreadsheet that holds most of the commands and actions you can use while working with the spreadsheet. The Ribbon is sectioned out by the Ribbon Tabs that are located near the top of the Ribbon.

In other words, the Ribbon is the place you refer to when you want to edit or modify data within your spreadsheet.

Next is the:

  • Name Box
  • Formula Bar
  • Headings
  • Rows and Columns

The Name Box normally displays the address of the active (currently selected) cell on the worksheet. You can also use the Name Box to create named ranges and navigate to specific parts of your workbook.

The Formula Bar is the space on your spreadsheet that allows you to enter or view information in a selected cell.

The Headings display the labels for each row and column on your spreadsheet.

Finally, we have the

  • The Selected Cell
  • Drag or Fill Handle
  • A Range of Cells
  • The Worksheet Tabs

The Selected Cell (which is also known as the active cell) is the cell in which data will be entered when you begin typing. The contents of the Selected Cell will always be shown in the formula bar as well.

The Drag or Fill Handle is a feature that allows the spreadsheet user to extend a series of numbers, dates, or formulas to a desired number of cells. For instance, if the value of “Some Text” is within your currently selected cell and you use the Fill Handle to drag this value down 6 extra cells, then the six extra cells will also contain the value of “Some Text.”

A Range of Cells is simply a collection of multiple cells.

The Worksheet Tabs allow the user to navigate between the different worksheets that exist within a given workbook or spreadsheet.


We won’t be re-writing the definitions of terms that were defined above, but below is another display of common spreadsheet terminology with a Google Sheets spreadsheet example.

  • File Name
  • Menu Tabs
  • The Toolbar

The Toolbar is similar to the ribbon in Excel. It is simply the area of the spreadsheet that holds most of the commands and actions you can use while working with the spreadsheet.

The Menu Tabs contain extra menus that you can utilize for even more spreadsheet actions and commands.

Next, we have the:

  • Name Box
  • Formula Bar
  • Headings
  • Rows and Columns

Finally, we have the:

  • The Selected (active) Cell
  • Drag or Fill Handle
  • A Range of Cells
  • Worksheet Tabs

That about covers it for basic spreadsheet terminology. There is still plenty more to learn, but knowing these terms is the first major step in beginning to understand the amazing but crazy world of spreadsheets!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. As someone who uses spreadsheets frequently, I was surprised to learn that I didn’t know about the quick access toolbar! Let alone that it was customizable! That’s so cool!

    1. UPDATE: I’m using office 365 and I couldn’t find the quick access toolbar. I discovered that you have to unhide it and it looks a little bit different. I right clicked on the “quick access toolbar” location (as see above in the blog post) and selected “Show Quick Access Toolbar”. It actually appears between the ribbon section and the formula bar section. I just thought I would share for anyone else having the same problem!

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