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How to Use Google Sheets to Make Your First Spreadsheet

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This post is part of a series called How to Use Google Sheets (Essential Tutorial Guide).
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When you hear the term spreadsheet, what do you think of? Do you think of them as a tool to use for your business and projects, or a tool that you see your accountant using when you visit their office?

Make no mistake - spreadsheets are certainly preferred by corporate professionals and accountants as an easy way to run calculations and formulas on large datasets.

But that's not the only use for a spreadsheet. In fact, we frequently use spreadsheets for planning and organizing content even within Envato Tuts+. Whether you're using a spreadsheet for creative projects, organizing your business, or collaborating with others, Google Sheets is a great tool for doing just that.

This tutorial will focus on how to use Google Sheets. Even if you don't know how to use Google spreadsheets, this tutorial will help you get started and thinking about how to work with data.

How to Create your First Google Sheets templateHow to Create your First Google Sheets templateHow to Create your First Google Sheets template

Why Use Google Sheets?

Before we focus in on using Google Sheets, here are a few reasons why I think spreadsheets are unique from other types of documents for managing projects and processes:

  • Spreadsheets are extremely scalable, with practically endless rows and columns that you can add your data to.
  • Spreadsheets are flexible, with the ability to put practically any type of data inside the cells.
  • Spreadsheets accept formulas and functions so that you can take raw data and create calculations.

You may already be familiar with using an app like Microsoft Excel to create spreadsheets. It's certainly true that Excel is the most popular and widely-accepted spreadsheet app, but Sheets has its own advantages as well.

The obvious advantage to using Google Sheets is that it takes place in the cloud. Any device that has a web browser or access to the iOS and Android apps can use Sheets. 

Sheets is also linked to your Google Drive account, so it's easy to switch devices and keep working on your project. That Drive integration means that your documents will always be backed up and ready to work on regardless of device.

Watch & Learn

In the screencast below, I'll cover a few of the essential skills that can help you get started with Google Sheets. This screencast is a guided introduction to using Google Sheets to create your first spreadsheet.

Read on in this tutorial to review key skills that you can use to get the most from Google Sheets.

How to Start Using Google Sheets

To get started with Google Sheets, you'll first need to create a free Google account. If you're already using Gmail, for example, you'll have access to Sheets right away.

To jump into Sheets, I always start off by jumping to the Google Drive homepage. You might already use Google Drive to store and back up your files. Google has an entire suite of browser-based tools like Docs and Sheets that you can use in a web browser.

New Google Sheets fileNew Google Sheets fileNew Google Sheets file
You can create a new Sheets file from anywhere in Google Drive by clicking on the New button and choosing Google Sheets.

To create your first spreadsheet, click on the New button and choose Google Sheets. Now, it will take you over to a blank sheet that you can get started with by simply typing into the available cells. This is your blank canvas that's ready for flat data, formulas, and more.

One way to get a headstart on creating a spreadsheet is to use a template, a pre-built file that has cells, formulas, and ideas for organizing your data. It can be a major advantage over building out your spreadsheet from scratch. 

Check out the round-up and tutorial below to learn more about templates in Google Sheets:

How to Write Your First Formula

So far, we've only touched on adding flat data to your spreadsheet. Let's look at simple examples of formulas and functions that take the data in your spreadsheet and transform them in some way.

To start writing your first formula, type an equals sign ("=") into the cell. Then, you can start typing a formula in. You can either type the formula right into the bar, or reference other cells to work with them, such as =A1+B1.

Excel Formula SampleExcel Formula SampleExcel Formula Sample
You can create formulas either right inside of a single cell, or by working with data that's already entered into other cells.

Here are a few formulas that you can use to work on data:

  • Basic math operators , like +, -, *, and /
  • Text transformation formulas, like =UPPER, =LOWER, or =TRIM (try these out on text to see the effects!)
  • Date functions, like =TODAY to print today's date, or =MONTH to get the month from a specific date

Sheets is smart enough to help you extend formulas easily. After you add the first formula in a sequence, you don't have to re-type it for each and every row. Simply hover over the corner of the cell, and when you see the symbol change to a "+" icon, click and drag it down to extend the formula.

Sales price with tax exampleSales price with tax exampleSales price with tax example
You don't have to write the same formula over and over in Sheets - just grab the formula and pull it down to apply it to each and every row.

For a complete list of formulas and functions, jump over to Google's official documentation. Check out the tutorial below for a crash course on using formulas and functions to work with data in Google Sheets.

How to Share Sheets

By far, one of my favorite Google Sheets features is the ability to share and collaborate with others. You can add other users to your spreadsheet and have them jump in to collaborate on the work with you.

To get started with sharing, click on the blue Share button in the upper right corner of Sheets. Then, you can simply add email addresses for anyone that you want to include as a collaborator.

Share Spreadsheet with Others in Google SheetsShare Spreadsheet with Others in Google SheetsShare Spreadsheet with Others in Google Sheets
Click the Share button and then add email addresses to invite others to edit, comment, or view your spreadsheet.

Make sure to set the permissions for collaborators. You can click the pencil icon dropdown to control if they can edit, comment, or simply view the spreadsheet so that no unintended changes are made.

Check out the full tutorial below to see a complete guide on how to use Google Sheets for collaboration:

How to Use Basic Formatting in Google Spreadsheets

Formatting in Google Sheets is all about adding visual cues about what your data means. That could range from simple bold and italic effects on text, to borders that help separate specific cells from the rest of the spreadsheet.

Several key formatting tools that you might want to try out include:

  • Borders segment off certain data into multiple tables to make it clear that data is separated.
  • Cell shading adds a background color to your cells, and it's helpful for header rows or other special cells.
  • Font styles can help you set off certain text with specific font choices, and bold and italic styles.

All of these tools live on the toolbar just above the data. Try them out to apply styles to the data that's in your spreadsheets.

Adjusted with FormattingAdjusted with FormattingAdjusted with Formatting
These cells have been given formatting to make the data both easier to read and meaningful with number formats matching the purpose of the data.

If you're interested in becoming a formatting expert, make sure to click the link below and see the formatting options in action:

Recap & Keep Learning

You've just learned how to use Google Sheets. Although I love using Microsoft Excel for advanced analysis and financial modeling, Google Sheets can be a useful tool to anyone who needs to keep things organized and structured. This tutorial focused on the critical features to help you get up to speed on learning Google Sheets.

The tutorials below are a great way to keep learning how to use Google spreadsheets. Each of them has a different tool or feature covered that will help you think about using Google Sheets for your own projects.

How do you use Google Sheets? What was the first project that you used it with that made you see the potential? Let me know what you're using Google Sheets for in the comments section below.

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