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.

In Excel 97:

  1. Click on the “Insert” header, or type Alt-I.
  2. Click on “Function…” or type F.
  3. In the “Paste Function” pop-up window that appears there are two scrolling panes. In the one on the left, labeled “Function category:”, choose the category for the function you want. If you do not know the category, choose the category “All”.
  4. In the scrolling pane on the right, labeled “Function name:”, browse until you find the specific function you want. If you select one by click on it then information will appear in the gray area below the two panes. . The bold part of the information is the function name and parameters, and the non-bold part is a brief description of what it does.
  5. Once you have selected the function you want, click on the ‘OK’ button.
  6. A new window will appear, with fields for each of the parameters. The fields labeled in bold are required. In each field you can enter a value, or a reference to a cell, or a named variable. If you want to enter a reference to cell you can either type it in, or click on the button next to the field that looks like a miniature spreadsheet with a red arrow. If you click on the button then the window with minimize to a single text field, and you’ll be able to select cells by clicking on them in the spreadsheet. Once you’re done click on the button next to the text field that has a downward-pointing red arrow, or just hit enter. This will re-expand the window with all the parameters.
  7. Once you are done entering parameters, click on the “OK” button.

In Excel 2007:

  1. Click on the “Formulas” tab.
  2. In the Formulas tab, look for the Function Library. For me it’s the first one on the left.
  3. In the Function Library, click on the big black fx that’s labeled “Insert Function”. You could also click on any of the sub-categories, but some of the ways they’ve decided to group functions aren’t intuitive for me. Still, those lists might be less overwhelming than the full list.
  4. In the window that comes up there is a box listing all of the available functions. If you select one by clicking on it, information will appear immediately below the box. The bold part of the information is the function name and parameters, and the non-bold part is a brief description of what it does.
  5. Browse through until you find the one you want. You can narrow the list you have to look through by searching in the box at the top, or selecting a category from the drop-down menu.
  6. Once you have selected the function you want, click on the ‘OK’ button.
  7. A new window will appear, with fields for each of the parameters. The fields labeled in bold are required. In each field you can enter a value, or a reference to a cell, or a named variable. If you want to enter a reference to cell you can either type it in, or click on the button next to the field that looks like a miniature spreadsheet with a big red arrow. If you click on the button then the window with minimize to a single text field, and you’ll be able to select cells by clicking on them in the spreadsheet. Once you’re done click on the button next to the text field that has a downward-pointing red arrow. This will re-expand the window with all the parameters.
  8. Once you are done entering parameters, click on the “OK” button.

Note: The Excel 97 keyboard shortcut of Alt-I-F still works.

In Google Spreadsheet:

  1. Click on the “Insert” header.
  2. In the menu that appears, click on “Function”
  3. In the sub-menu that appears, click on “More…”
  4. In the window that appears, browse through the categories and functions until you find the one you want. When you select a function by clicking on it, information about the function appears below the list. Initially all that appears is the syntax for the function, but you can click on the “more>>” link to open a detailed help page in another tab. If the “more>>” link doesn’t appear, try using the scroll bar in that section to scroll down.
  5. Once you have selected the function you want, double-click on the description to insert it into the spreadsheet. DO NOT click on ‘OK’, if you want it to be inserted.
  6. Enter the parameters either by typing or by clicking on the cell you want. If you have more than one parameter they should be separated by commas.

In OpenOffice Calc:

  1. Click on the Insert header or type Alt-I.
  2. In the menu that appears, click on “Function…” or type F.
  3. In the window that appears, browse for the function you want. You can limit which functions appear by changing the category in the drop-down menu in the upper left. If you select a function by clicking on it then information will appear in the panel to the right. It will list the name of the function, the parameters, and a brief description of what it does.
  4. Once you have selected the function you want, click on the “Next>>” button.
  5. The panel to the right now shows a field for every parameter. You can either type in a value, cell reference, or named variable, or click on the upward-pointing green arrow next to the text box to shrink the window and let you click on the spreadsheet to select the cells you want. Once you are done selecting cells, click on the downward-pointing green arrow in the shrunken window to expand it again.
  6. When you are done entering parameters, click on the ‘OK’ button.

In Microsoft Works Spreadsheet:

  1. Click on the Insert header or type Alt-I.
  2. In the menu that appears, click on “Function…” or type F.
  3. In the window that appears, browse for the function you want. You can limit which functions appear by changing the category in the list on the left. If you select a function by clicking on it then information will appear in the panel to the right. It will list the name of the function, the parameters, and a brief description of what it does.
  4. Once you have selected the function you want, click on the “Insert” button.
  5. The function will appear in your spreadsheet, with placeholders for all the parameters. Replace all the placeholders with actual values, cell references, or named variables.