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Excel 2013: Create Professional-Looking Spreadsheets, Faster

Excel 2013 can help your nonprofit or library analyze data faster and create impressive charts and spreadsheets.

Excel 2013: Create Professional-Looking Spreadsheets, Faster 
Ginny Mies - March 01, 2013
Whether you're a novice or an advanced user, you'll find many of Excel 2013's new features useful at your nonprofit, foundation, charity, or library. Most of Excel 2013's updates are designed to make crunching numbers and analyzing data faster and easier.

Whether you're a novice or an advanced user, you'll find many of Excel 2013's new features useful at your nonprofit, foundation, charity, or library. The changes between Excel 2010 and Excel 2013 are subtle, so your staff should have no problem transitioning into the new version. Most of Excel 2013's updates are designed to make crunching numbers and analyzing data faster and easier.

Eligible nonprofits, charities, foundations, and libraries can now request Office Standard and Professional editions through the Microsoft Software Donation Program at TechSoup. To learn more about the new Office, read TechSoup's Microsoft Office: What Your Organization Should Know.

Updated Look

Like the rest of the new Office suite, Excel 2013 has undergone a light, minimalist makeover. With less clutter, it is easier to find the menus and tools you need to get started on your projects. If you're working in a spreadsheet for a long period of time, your eyes can sometimes get fatigued from looking at endless columns of data. Excel relieves this with subtle animations that make it easier to track your cursor between cells.

When you start up Excel, you'll see a new landing page with your most recently opened projects as well as a variety of templates to choose from (you'll find similar landing pages in other programs in the new Office). If you aren't sure how to format a fundraiser budget or where to start to make a volunteer calendar, Excel's expansive library of templates can get you started on the right track.

Built to Help You Save Time

Flash Fill is a handy new feature that can help you reformat and rearrange your data. Excel will learn and remember your data entry patterns and auto-complete the remaining data with no formulas or macros required. One way Flash Fill can be of assistance is if you have to import a large chunk of data into another spreadsheet.

Flash Fill can predict your data entry — before you type it.
Flash Fill can predict your data entry — before you type it.

For example, say you need to copy and paste volunteer names into a spreadsheet from a list. You prefer to have the last name and first name in separate cells, however, so you can list the volunteers alphabetically. When you start typing the last names into a separate column, Excel will recognize this pattern and automatically fill in the rest of the data. To see Flash Fill in action, watch a replay of our webinar Take a Tour of the New Microsoft Office, which includes a demo of this feature.

Visualize Your Data

A number of new, useful tools will appeal to Excel novices and advanced users alike. The new Quick Analysis function helps you convert your data into a chart, table, or Sparklines (small graphs that you can show alongside your data. See our article on How to Use Sparklines in Excel 2010 to see examples.) To do this, you select the cells you wish to analyze and click the Quick Analysis button that appears to the bottom right. You can preview different visual formats for your data (like a pie chart, bar graph, and so on) so you can swiftly choose the best format.

Excel's Recommend Chart feature helps you pick the best format for your data.
Excel's Recommend Chart feature helps you pick the best format for your data.

If you already know that you want a chart to illustrate your data, you can jump to the Recommended Charts tool by selecting it from the Insert tab on the Ribbon (click Insert > Recommended Charts). You'll see different charting options that might work for your project, such as pie, line, and bar charts.

A small, but useful enhancement in Excel 2013 is chart animation. When you adjust data associated with a chart, Excel will animate the change to show how the new numbers affect the overall graphic.

The Recommended Chart feature can help you discover new ways of visually presenting your data.
The Recommended Chart feature can help you discover new ways of visually presenting your data.

Recommended PivotTable is another new feature you'll find under the Insert tab. The PivotTable feature lets you create an interactive table that automatically extracts, organizes, and summarizes your data (for more on Pivot Tables in Excel 2010, read TechSoup Canada's Data Analysis Is for Everyone! A Short Intro to Pivot Tables). When you select a group of cells, you can see a preview of how your data would look in a variety of tables using different pivots.

Sharing and Collaboration

As with the rest of the new Office suite, it is easier to share and collaborate in Excel with your colleagues. Your workbooks are saved to SkyDrive (Microsoft's cloud-based storage service) or SharePoint by default. SkyDrive will even save your place in a spreadsheet so when you come back it, you'll be in the cell you were previously working on — even if you're accessing it from a different device. You can also save workbooks to your computer if you prefer to save files locally. Want to share a particularly interesting chart or graph with your audience? Excel 2013 lets you share selected portions of your spreadsheets on your social networking pages directly from the application.

You can also show off your charts in a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint 2013 lets you insert Excel charts (as well as tables and graphs) into a slide without losing any of their formatting or functionality.

Conclusion

The new features in Excel 2013 can help anybody create professional-looking charts, spreadsheets, and tables — regardless of their skill level. If your staff is already comfortable working in earlier versions of Excel, they should have no trouble getting started.