Appendix A. Getting Help in Excel

On the one hand, you’ve got to give it up for Excel’s developers, who’ve beefed up the search tools inside Excel’s help system to the point where they’re actually pretty good. On the other hand, the information you actually uncover in your search can be vague, confusing, and sometimes painfully obscure programmer-speak.

Overall, the Excel help system isn’t, alas, much help when you need to tackle new topics or learn fundamental Excel concepts. But if you just need to look up a list of steps, then you’ll be thankful it’s fairly easy to find what you need. In fact, many Excel gurus use this approach, referring to detailed printed documentation and articles to learn the tricks of the trade, and using the online help system to fill in the occasional memory gap.

In this appendix, you’ll take a quick tour of Excel’s help system, and see how you can use it to track down a step-by-step list of instructions for many tasks. You’ll also take a quick look at the often-exasperating Office Assistant.

Asking Questions

Excel’s help is search-driven. That means, instead of looking at the help like a comprehensive manual, its designers clearly want you to think of it as a giant database of knowledge that you can search in order to extract individual nuggets. While it’s possible to view a topic-by-topic listing (see Section A.1.2, for more on this option), the quickest way to conduct a help search is by using the Ask a Question text box. This field appears in the top-right ...

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