Tutorials For OpenOffice: Spreadsheet Basics
Image by: Sally Peterson

Spreadsheet Basics

Tutorial donated by Wayne Tachirhard

This tutorial explains some of the basics that allows all Users to be successful with spreadsheets.

The Word Spreadsheet

The term spreadsheet was derived from a large piece of paper that accountants used for business finances. The accountant would spread information like costs, payments, taxes, income, etc out on a single, big, oversized sheet of paper to get a complete financial overview.

Spreadsheets Today

Some examples of spreadsheet usage:

  • Spreadsheets act like a calculator by automatically doing calculations.

  • Spreadsheets are used for tracking personal investments, budgeting, invoices, inventory tracking, statistical analysis, numerical modeling, address books, telephone books, printing labels, etc.

  • Spreadsheets are used in almost every profession to calculate, graph, analyze and store information.

  • Spreadsheets are used for What-if calculations. Change one number in a spreadsheet and all the calculations in a large spreadsheet will re-calculate, will automatically change.

Open A Spreadsheet

  1. IF on the desktop, click > All Programs > OpenOffice.org 2.3 > OpenOffice.org Calc.

  2. IF you are in a OpenOffice program, click File > New > Spreadsheet.

  3. In either case a spreadsheet called appears on our screen.

The Calc Toolbars

The following four Calc Toolbars appear at the top of all Calc screens

Main Menu Toolbar

The first toolbar is the Main Menu toolbar that gives you access to many of the basic commands used in Calc.

Function Toolbar

The second toolbar down is the Function Toolbar. The Function Toolbar contains icons (pictures) to provide quick access to commands like New, Open, Print, Copy, Paste, etc. When you place your mouse cursor over any of the elements of a toolbar, the name of the element appears on your screen.

Move your cursor over the icon . (The word “New” appears. Clicking on opens a new spreadsheet.)

Formatting Toolbar

The third toolbar down is the Formatting Toolbar. The Formatting Toolbar has icons plus drop-down menus that allow you to select a font, font color, alignments, number formats, border options and background colors.

Formula Toolbar

The fourth toolbar down is the Formula Toolbar. The Formula Toolbar contains the Name Box drop-down menu and a long white box called the Input Line.

Note: If your Toolbars look different, it is because these toolbars are in 800x600 screen resolution and the last eight icons are not shown but are available by clicking on the on the far right of the toolbar.

The Spreadsheet Itself

The rest of the window contains the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is divided into rows that have a number at the left of each row and divided into columns with letters at the top of each column.


A cell is the fundamental element of a worksheet. This is where things are added and where things are seen. A cell address in a spreadsheet identifies the location of the cell in the spreadsheet. A cell address is a combination of the column letter and the row number of a cell, such as A2 or B16.etc. When identifying a cell by its address, the column letter is always listed first followed by the row number. The cell address of the example below is A5.

Enter Data

  1. Click on the A1 cell (The cell at the very top left of the spreadsheet).
  2. Notice the heavy black border around the A1 cell. The heavy black border indicates that A1 is the active cell. (A is at the top of the first column and 1 is on the first row. Both are highlighted. The highlighting also indicates that A1 is the active cell.)

  1. Type Hello World and press Enter.

  2. The active cell is now A2. (The words “Hello World” are in A1.)

  1. When you type something in a cell and press Enter, what you typed is seen in that cell and the cell below becomes the next active cell.

    Delete Data

  2. Click on A1 again.

  3. Press the Delete key. (The “Delete Contents” window appears.)

  1. Check the Delete all box then click OK. (“Hello World” is deleted from A1)

Format Data

Separate Thousands, Two Decimal Places, Red Negative Numbers

  1. Click cell A1. > Type the number -9999.129 > Press Enter. (The cursor moves to cell A2)
  2. Right-click cell A1. (A small menu appears) > click Format cells. (The “Format cells” window appears)

  1. Click Numbers tab. Under “Category”, click on Number. Under “Format”, click on -1,234.12. Click In the small box before “Negative numbers red”. (A check-mark appears in the box) > Click OK. (The number '-9,999.13” appears in cell A1.

    Align Left

  2. Click Alignment tab. In the “Horizontal” pull-down menu, select Left. Click OK. (the numbers move to the left edge of the cell.)


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Last modified: 2009-11-04
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License