When using Microsoft Excel in a business environment, there are five essential items that every user should be aware of. One of the most basic features that is essential to effective spreadsheet usage is cell referencing. This is the ability for one cell to use the value of another cell to produce its output. This is so basic, yet so important. Without cell referencing all other useful features would be unusable.

Microsoft Excel includes a wealth of built in functions. These functions are the real bread and butter of the application. They provide all the advanced math and logic functions that a spreadsheet must use to provide information to the user. Although basic math operations do not require built in functions, Microsoft Excel includes functions that can perform complicated operations such as sine, cosine, and tangent. Combined with logic functions like IF, Excel has the flexibility to perform an expansive array of complicated operations.

Tables and Pivot Tables are different but related features. Tables act directly on the data in question, while pivot tables import data from an external source or another worksheet in the workbook. Both features provide tools to automatically format collections of data. Additionally, these features provide tools to automatically summarize data in common ways.

Data validation is the ability to verify that the data entered into a cell conforms to the standards defined by the spreadsheet creator. Since some functions require data to be in a specific format, it is important that data is properly entered. It is the role of data validation to ensure this happens.

The final important feature of Microsoft Excel is not related to data, but to presentation. Although Excel is all about data, the data only has meaning when coupled with good presentation. The Format Painter tool can be used to copy the formatting from one cell and apply it to many cells. This can really be a lifesaver when applying formatting to new cells in an existing spreadsheet.