Excel Tutorial: How To Read Excel Files


Excel files are widely used for data storage and analysis in various industries. Whether you are a student, professional, or business owner, understanding how to read and extract information from excel files is an essential skill. In this tutorial, we will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to read excel files using Microsoft Excel, including opening, navigating, and interpreting data. By the end of this tutorial, you will have the knowledge and confidence to work with excel files effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding how to read and extract information from excel files is an essential skill for students, professionals, and business owners.
  • Excel files come in different formats such as .xls, .xlsx, and .csv, and it's important to know how to identify the format of an excel file.
  • Opening and navigating through excel files can be done using Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or other alternatives.
  • Reading and working with different data types, including text, numbers, dates, times, formulas, and functions, is crucial for effective data analysis.
  • Handling large datasets can be made easier by utilizing filters, sorting, and pivot tables for analysis.

Understanding Excel File Formats

When working with Excel files, it's important to understand the different file extensions and how to identify the format of an Excel file.

A. Different file extensions
  • .xls: This is the older file format used by Excel. It has limitations in terms of file size and features.
  • .xlsx: This is the newer file format used by Excel. It has increased capacity and supports more features compared to .xls.
  • .csv: This is a text file format that represents spreadsheet data. It is commonly used for importing and exporting data between different programs.

B. How to identify the format of an excel file
  • File extension: The easiest way to identify the format of an Excel file is by looking at the file extension. The extension .xls indicates an older format, while .xlsx indicates a newer format. A .csv file is a text file format.
  • Using Excel: You can also open the file in Excel and check the file format in the title bar at the top of the application window.
  • Properties: Right-click on the file and select "Properties" to view information about the file format.

Opening an Excel File

When it comes to reading Excel files, there are a few different methods you can use to open them. Here are two common ways:

A. Using Microsoft Excel software

If you have Microsoft Excel installed on your computer, you can open Excel files directly within the program. Simply launch the Excel software and then use the file navigation options to locate and open the Excel file you want to read.

B. Using Google Sheets or other alternatives

If you don't have access to Microsoft Excel, or if you prefer to use a different program, you can also open Excel files using Google Sheets or other alternative software. Google Sheets is a free, web-based spreadsheet program that allows you to upload and read Excel files. Simply log into your Google account, open Google Sheets, and then use the file upload feature to select and open your Excel file. Other alternatives, such as OpenOffice or LibreOffice, also provide the capability to open Excel files.

Reading Data from Excel

When working with Excel files, it's important to understand how to read the data within the file. This involves navigating through different sheets and understanding the structure of the data within each sheet.

A. Navigating through different sheets
  • To navigate through different sheets in an Excel file, simply click on the sheet tabs located at the bottom of the Excel window. Each sheet will contain different sets of data, so it's important to know which sheet you need to work with.

  • You can also use keyboard shortcuts to move between sheets. Press Ctrl + Page Up to move to the previous sheet, and Ctrl + Page Down to move to the next sheet.

B. Understanding rows, columns, and cells
  • In Excel, data is organized into rows and columns. Rows are identified by numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.), while columns are identified by letters (A, B, C, etc.). Each intersection of a row and column is referred to as a cell.

  • To read data from Excel, you need to understand how to navigate through these rows, columns, and cells. This will allow you to locate specific pieces of data within the Excel file.

Working with Different Data Types

When working with Excel files, it's important to understand how to read and manipulate different types of data. Whether it's text, numbers, dates, or formulas, Excel provides various tools and functions to work with each data type effectively.

A. Text and numbers
  • Text:

    Excel treats any entry that is not a number as text. This means that if you want to perform calculations with text entries, you'll need to use functions that specifically work with text data, such as CONCATENATE or LEFT/RIGHT/MID functions.
  • Numbers:

    Excel is designed to handle numerical data efficiently. You can perform various mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division using built-in functions or formulas. It's important to be familiar with number formatting and how to manipulate numeric data within Excel.

B. Dates and times
  • Dates:

    Excel recognizes dates as a specific type of data and provides special formatting and functions for working with date values. You can perform calculations, such as finding the difference between two dates or adding/subtracting days, months, or years from a given date.
  • Times:

    Like dates, Excel treats times as a distinct data type. You can work with time values to calculate durations, add/subtract time intervals, or format time entries according to specific requirements.

C. Formulas and functions
  • Formulas:

    Excel allows you to create custom calculations using formulas. Whether it's a simple arithmetic operation or a complex statistical analysis, you can use formulas to manipulate and derive new data from existing values in the spreadsheet.
  • Functions:

    Excel offers a wide range of built-in functions to perform specific operations on your data. This includes mathematical, logical, text, date, and reference functions, among others. Knowing how to use functions effectively can significantly improve your efficiency in working with Excel files.

Handling Large Datasets

When working with large datasets in Excel, it's important to have efficient methods for handling and analyzing the data. Two key tools for managing large datasets are utilizing filters and sorting, and using pivot tables for analysis.

A. Utilizing filters and sorting

Filters and sorting are essential for managing large datasets in Excel. By utilizing filters, you can easily narrow down the data to specific criteria, making it easier to focus on relevant information. Sorting allows you to organize the data in a way that is easy to understand and analyze.

1. Applying filters

  • Click on the filter icon in the header of the column you want to filter.
  • Choose the criteria you want to filter by, such as text, numbers, or date ranges.
  • Apply the filter to display only the data that meets the specified criteria.

2. Sorting data

  • Select the column you want to sort by.
  • Click on the "Sort A to Z" or "Sort Z to A" option to arrange the data in ascending or descending order.
  • Sort by multiple columns to further organize the data for analysis.

B. Using pivot tables for analysis

Pivot tables are powerful tools for analyzing large datasets in Excel. They allow you to summarize, analyze, and visualize data in a dynamic and interactive way, making it easier to identify patterns and trends.

1. Creating a pivot table

  • Select the data range you want to analyze.
  • Go to the "Insert" tab and click on "PivotTable."
  • Choose where you want the pivot table to be placed and customize the layout as needed.

2. Analyzing data with pivot tables

  • Drag and drop fields into the rows, columns, and values areas to create the desired analysis.
  • Apply filters and slicers to further refine the analysis and focus on specific aspects of the data.
  • Use pivot charts to visually represent the data and gain insights from the analysis.


In conclusion, we have covered the key points of reading excel files, including how to open and navigate through a file, as well as how to use different features such as sorting and filtering. It is essential to practice and explore more features to become proficient in reading and analyzing excel files.

Remember, the more you practice, the more comfortable you will become with working with excel files. So, keep exploring and don't be afraid to try out new features!

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