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By Colleen Wheeler | Friday, April 06, 2012

lynda.com Learning Path: Learning to make sense of data with Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is well-known as the industry-standard spreadsheet program, and it is really a veritable Swiss Army knife of an application. It can be used for anything from making a quick structured chart to a reasonably powerful database. The fact that it’s hard to pin down just how people want to use Excel—anything from managing finances to data presentation—is the precise reason our library is full of specialized Excel courses. So how do you find the courses that will suit your particular Excel needs best?

What if you’re not a math wiz and you just want to learn how to manage the deluge of data that’s coming your way? You could be trying to makes sense of painstaking measurements you’ve documented for your own personal goals, or you could be trying to wrangle a collection of raw numbers from your latest auto-generated sales report. Which of the lynda.com Excel courses are going to help you analyze those numbers so that you can communicate trends, build strategies, and create the justification for a call to action? In this learning path, I’ll take you through some key Excel courses designed specifically to help you manage your data so that it is accessible and useful to you in your life, your work, and your community.

1. Starting from square one: I just need to learn the core Excel features and where they live in my version of the program. First things first, you need to know what Excel can do and how to access the tools that might help your project. Whether you’ve never used Excel before or you’ve only touched it when you absolutely had to, the best place to get started is with Excel portion of our Essential Training series. If you’re using the most current version of Excel, start with Excel 2010 Essential Training, orExcel for Mac 2011 Essential Training, depending on your platform. If you haven’t updated to the latest version of Excel, we also have Excel 2007 Essential Training and Excel 2003 Essential Training available. Regardless of which course you choose, you’ll find everything you need to know to get started efficiently creating your first spreadsheet.

2. Sorting basics: I know how to create a spreadsheet, but I haven’t ever explored the key sorting features. If you’ve only performed the most basic of A>Z sorts, then our course on Managing and Analyzing Data in Excel will help you understand Excel’s quick and sophisticated options for sorting your numbers. For instance, you can teach Excel to recognize non-numerical information like months, days, or other human-centered data. Here’s a movie from the course on sorting based on the order of data in custom lists:

3. Investigating new perspectives: I know how to perform basic ranking and sorting functions, but I need to quickly see the data from different angles. When you have data that needs to be quickly analyzed from different perspectives, by year, by company, or against some other variable, a pivot table helps you dynamically rearrange your table data to find the answer you need. Our Excel 2010 course on Pivot Tables In Depth shows you how this powerful feature works. Even if you’ve never created a pivot table before, this course will walk you through the process. Check out this movie to see how they work and why they are so powerful for data analysis:

4. Preparing data for efficient and accurate analysis: I know how to use the tools, but the raw data I’m getting is inconsistent and in multiple formats. Sometimes you get handed automatically generated, or humanly created information that comes in formats that Excel doesn’t quite know how to read efficiently, if at all. To get some important tips and workarounds for making sure this data is consistent enough to sort, check out Cleaning up Your Excel Data. Here’s a great example on how to create Excel-readable dates from an inefficient mixture of raw date formats:

5. Ensuring valid results: I can perform all the key analysis functions, but my file is huge and I don’t have a way to check my results. Our Excel: Data Validation in Depth course is designed to reveal the various ways you can command Excel to double-check your results for accuracy. In this course, you’ll see how to use features within the program to perform validation on your outcomes. Check out this introductory video from the course to see what Excel tricks you can learn from Dennis Taylor:

Of course, beyond these five jumping-off points, there’s still an incredible amount to be learned about Excel, and we have a wide variety of courses to help you take your next steps. In the library, you’ll find that courses also have alternate options that coincide with earlier versions of Excel, so there’s a little bit of something for everyone. Speaking from personal experience, even as a Mac user, I know that sections of these courses have come to my own number-crunching rescue many times.

What sorts of tasks do you want to do in Excel? How can we help clear a path for you to get to that knowledge?

Interested in more? • See all the Microsoft Excel courses available on lynda.com.

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