Excel Tip: Table Feature Enables Effective Analysis

By David H. Ringstrom, CPA

Excel 2007 and 2010 users often overlook the useful Table feature, which can streamline data analysis. This feature is a major overhaul of the List feature that has long lurked on the Data menu of earlier versions of Excel. In this article, I'll introduce you to the Table feature and demonstrate several ways it can help you work faster in Excel.
 
When you convert a range of data in a worksheet to a table, several things happen simultaneously, as shown in Figure 1:
  • Excel places a Filter arrow at the top of each column.
  • Excel applies a table-style format, which shades alternating rows.
  • A Design tab appears in the ribbon, from which you can manage aspects of the table.

Figure 1: Excel's Table feature simplifies data analysis.

Other benefits of tables include:
  • The headings from the first row move up into the worksheet frame when you scroll down if the entire list can't be displayed on the screen. This means you don't have to freeze the worksheet panes to keep the title row in view.
  • Pivot tables based on tables have better integrity, as tables automatically expand to incorporate new data that you append. You must still refresh the pivot table when you add data to the table, but you won't need to manually resize the source data range.
  • Formulas that you add within the table get copied down the entire column automatically, as shown in Figure 4.
Long-time Excel users may remember a Table command on the Data menu of Excel 2003 and earlier. This command was renamed Data Table in Excel 2007 and later, and it appears under the What-If Analysis button on the Data tab of the ribbon. A Data Table shows you how changing one or two variables in a formula will affect the outcome. Conversely, the Table feature is used to analyze lists of data.
 
To create a table, follow the numbered steps in Figure 2.
 
 
Figure 2: You can convert a list to a table with four mouse clicks.
 
You can then add a Total Row as shown in Figure 3. Formulas within the Total Row only tally the visible rows, making it easy to view real-time statistics as you filter the table.
 
 
Figure 3: The Total Row in a table only tallies the visible rows.
 
Figure 4 illustrates another special characteristic with regard to formulas that you add to tables. You may wish to turn off the Use Table Names in Formulas setting, which appears in the Formulas section of Excel's Options window – the formula in Figure 4 would appear as =[@[Total Sales]]/[@[Cases Sold]] if I had left this option on.
 
 
Figure 4: Formulas that you add to a table are copied down automatically.
 
At any point, you can convert a table back to a normal range – click the Convert to Range button on the Design tab. Keep in mind that this command doesn't remove the formatting or total row. To save time, you may wish to turn off any undesired table features before you convert your data back to a normal range.
 
Read more articles by David Ringstrom. 
 
About the author:

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at david@acctadv.com or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, and presents webcasts for several CPE providers, including AccountingWEB partner CPE Link.

 

 

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