Excel Formulas

Practice Reading Formulas

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If you ever use a spreadsheet that was created by someone else, you'll also need to **read the formulas** in that spreadsheet. Reading a formula written by someone else can be tricky—it may not be immediately obvious why someone chose a certain formula, or how it's working. If you're struggling to read a formula, **don't panic!** Many formulas are actually less complicated than they appear, but it may take some time and effort to figure out how they work.

With that in mind, we've put together a list of tips to help you read formulas.

You may also find the tips in our Double-Check Your Formulas lesson to be helpful.

It's important to remember that any cell can contain a formula, and it won't always be obvious which cells contain them. You may want to get in the habit of** checking the** **formula bar** to see if the currently selected cell contains a formula.

You can also double-click a cell that contains a formula to see what cells it's referencing.

You can also switch to **formula view**, which will display all of the formulas in the spreadsheet. This can help you understand how the spreadsheet is put together and where the formulas are stored. Just hold the **Ctrl** key and press **` (grave accent)**. The grave accent key is usually located in the upper-left corner of the keyboard. Press **Ctrl+`** again to switch back to normal view.

Whenever you read a formula, you'll need to think about **why** that formula was used, and **what it's doing** in the spreadsheet.

The same is true for functions. For example, let's take a look at this spreadsheet—a running log our friend Sophie created:

It looks like Sophie didn't label the calculated value in cell **B8**. However, if we take a look at the formula we can see that she used the **AVERAGE** function to find the average of the values in cell range **B3:B7**. Based on the data in column B, we can reasonably guess that she used this formula to **find the average distance** for these different runs.

Remember the** order of operations** from math class? If not (or if you want a refresher), you can check out our Complex Formulas lesson. Your spreadsheet will always use this ordering, which means it doesn't just calculate a formula from left to right. If you're not sure how a formula is working, try walking through the order of operations to figure out how it's calculating a value.

It's also important to remember that whenever a formula contains a function, the function is generally **calculated before** any other operators, like multiplication and division. For example, in the formula below, the SUM function will be calculated before division:

If one function is **nested** inside another function, the innermost function will be calculated first. For example, in the formula **=WORKDAY(TODAY(),3)**, the TODAY function will be calculated first.

You can review our lesson on Functions to learn more about how functions work within formulas.

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