Simple Formulas

You can use formulas in Excel and other spreadsheet programs to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Use simple Excel formulas to also make cell references.

To create a formula:

In our example below, we'll use a simple formula and cell references to calculate a budget.

  1. Select the cell that will contain the formula. In our example, we'll select cell B3.
    Screenshot of Excel 2013Selecting cell B3
  2. Type the equals sign (=). Notice how it appears in both the cell and the formula bar.

    Entering the = sign

  3. Type the cell address of the cell you want to reference first in the formula: cell B1 in our example. A blue border will appear around the referenced cell.
    Screenshot of Excel 2013Referencing cell B1
  4. Type the mathematical operator you want to use. In our example, we'll type the addition sign (+).
  5. Type the cell address of the cell you want to reference second in the formula: cell B2 in our example. A red border will appear around the referenced cell.


    Screenshot of Excel 2013Referencing cell B2
  6. Press Enter on your keyboard. The formula will be calculated, and the value will be displayed in the cell.
    Screenshot of Excel 2013The complete formula and calculated value

If the result of a formula is too large to be displayed in a cell, it may appear as pound signs (#######) instead of a value. This means the column is not wide enough to display the cell content. Simply increase the column width to show the cell content.

Modifying values with cell references

The true advantage of cell references is that they allow you to update data in your worksheet without having to rewrite formulas. In the example below, we've modified the value of cell B1 from $1,200 to $1,800. The formula in B3 will automatically recalculate and display the new value in cell B3.

Screenshot of Excel 2013The recalculated cell value

Excel will not always tell you if your formula contains an error, so it's up to you to check all of your formulas. To learn how to do this, you can read the Double-Check Your Formulas lesson from our Excel Formulas tutorial.