Specific functions: Concatenate

Ah, concatenate. How I love you! I use you for proofreading. I use you to generate statistics. I use you to write code. I use you to enable easy sorting. And, of course, I use you for formatting text.

As I mentioned before, concatenating is putting together strings of text, rather like stitching together a baby’s quilt with letters and numbers on all the squares. There’s no practical limit to how big it can get although, much as with a quilt, if you’re aiming for a mile-long result it might be easier to stitch together 100 50-foot sections than it would be to stitch together 5000 1-foot sections. So sometimes it’s better to break up a single large or very complicated concatenate statement into multiple smaller statements, and then concatenate their results.

General Instructions
As with any function, you start by selecting the cell you want the function to be in, and then enter it either by typing or by using the menus to retrieve it. The syntax, limitations, and work-arounds for problematic characters vary somewhat by program.
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Favorite functions: Text manipulation

Sooner or later, if you have a long string of text, you might want to actually do something with it. There are all sorts of things that can be done with a string of text! But if you go browsing through all the functions in the “text” category then you’re likely to be overwhelmed with functions you can’t see any apparent use for. Some of them I can’t see any use for, either! But even the ones I do use could be overwhelming if they were all introduced at once. So in this post I’m going to introduce you to just my favorite functions for manipulating text.
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Functions: Help files

So what happens if the brief descriptions in the list of possible functions isn’t enough?

Most spreadsheets provide some sort of additional description and/or help file to, in theory, help someone use their functions. These help files are usually very helpful, once you know what you’re looking at! Unfortunately until you’re used to them they can be …less than useful. Plus, they can sometimes be hard to find.

The format varies by program, but each of the following things should appear somewhere.

  1. Help Link:Where to find the link that will take you to the expanded help file, containing the rest of this information .
  2. Info Box:Where to find the help information in the new window that opens up. For some programs the help information fills the entire window, and for others the actual help information takes up only part of it.
  3. Name:Where to find the name of the function.
  4. Category:Where to find what category this program puts this function in.
  5. Description:Where to find a sentence or two explaining the function, in relatively plain English.
  6. Syntax:Where to find the exact syntax to use when using this function. It’s like sentence structure — the sentence might be “I go to the store” but the syntax would be “noun verb prepositional-phrase.”
  7. Parameter definitions:Where to find an explanation for each parameter used by the function. Extending the sentence structure analogy, the definition for the parameter “noun” might be “Any person, place, or thing.”

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Functions: Finding the one you want

So, now that you know about functions, how do you use them? First off, if you already know the name of the function, and what parameters it takes, you can just type it in the same way you’d type in a formula. I have trouble imagining one that would not allow it.

However, if you don’t know the name of the function and what parameters it takes, you need to look it up. How you do so depends on the program you’re using.
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Functions are one of the big things that separate a spreadsheet from a paper ledger. I mean, you can do arithmetic functions on a piece of paper pretty easily. You can use highlighters or different pens to change the “format” of the cells. But functions let you do more complicated things. You can do in a single step what might take many steps to do on paper.

You might remember some common functions from math class, such as sine, square root, and log, and average. Or you might think of job functions, or daily tasks such as “get groceries”. Both of these types of functions are available in spreadsheets.

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