The Structure of an Excel file

Now that you know what Excel is (assuming you have read the Excel Overview post) you can now move onto understanding the basic structure of an Excel file, read on to learn the basics…

Excel Structure

Excel has a clear structure and there are some key terms that you will need to learn in order to help you understand how Excel works and it will also help you when consulting other Excel help documents like the ones on this website.

I find it easiest to think of Excel in terms of a hierarchy that has the Excel file/workbook at the top and within that you have the rest of parts.

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The Excel File/Workbook – Level One

Starting at the highest level you have the Excel Workbook, it will sometimes be referred to as the Excel file as this is basically what it is, your overall Excel file. It depends on who you are speaking to as different users will say phrases like “Open the Excel file” or “Open the Excel workbook” but if you remember that these terms are interchangeable you won’t go far wrong. The correct terminology is Excel Workbook so this is what we will use from now on.

An Excel Workbook will have a Filename, by default a new Excel Workbook will be labelled “Book 1” but as soon as you save the Workbook you will be asked to change the name, ideally this is when you will label your Workbook with something more specific so you know what it is, for example you may call it “Monthly Sales for 2015”.

The Excel Worksheet – Level Two

Within every Excel Workbook you must have at least one Worksheet. By default when you create a new Excel Workbook it contains three Worksheets that are labelled “Sheet 1”, “Sheet 2” and “Sheet 3”. The Worksheet is basically your canvas where you complete all your Excel tasks such as data entry or where you can display tables, charts, shapes, reports and Excel Dashboards.

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Excel Cells – Level Three

Finally the last level in the basic structure is the Excel Cell. Each worksheet contains lots of Cells which you can see in a grid format and each Cell will have a unique reference depending on what Column and Row they are in. For example the Top-Left Cell in a Worksheet is Cell A1 because it is in Column A and Row 1:

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Tip: Columns go across the Worksheet left to right and Rows go down the Worksheet top to bottom.

Excel Cells are where data can be entered and formulas can be created and the main reason they all have their own unique reference is to assist with calculating formulas or when you get to a more advanced stage, creating Macros and VBA Scripts for automation.

For example if you have a number in Cell A1 and A2 then you can Sum those two numbers by using the formula =SUM(A1:A2), this is useful because if the values in A1 and/or A2 change then your Sum will automatically recalculate.

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…then after the values in Cell A1 and A2 have been changed there is no need to redo the SUM formula in Cell A3, it auto-updates with the new total:

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To summarise this post:

  • The highest level of Excel is the Excel Workbook, sometimes referred to as the Excel file.
  • Within each Excel Workbook there are one (or more) Excel Worksheets
  • Within each Excel Worksheet there are lots of cells, every cell has a unique reference such as A1.

Thanks for reading and I hope that as an Excel beginner you are now building your knowledge and confidence with Excel, it is worth the time believe me! Look out for further posts in the Excel Beginners section to start progressing even more.

Keep Excelling,

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