A Guide to Using Excel in Physics Lab
Excel has the potential to be a very useful
program that will save you lots of time.
is especially useful for making repetitious
calculations on large data sets.
It keeps track
of your numbers, and can do the math for you.
It does, however, have a learning curve that
can be rather steep.
Hopefully, this handout
will make Excel more accessible and easier to
use. In the meantime, remember the first law of
computer use: computers are amazingly
powerful, and equally stupid.
We will begin with how to enter data into an
When you open a new file
in Excel, you will see a blank page
(spreadsheet) with a lot of little boxes (cells)
that says “Book1” in the upper left hand corner.
Book1 is simply the default
filename, which will change once you save and name your file.
All Excel files will
appear as “Filename.xls”, just as Word documents are “Filename.doc”.
data directly into the spreadsheet is fairly straightforward; you pick a column, label
it accordingly, and enter your data.
So if you had measured, say, the distance an
object had traveled
and had 10 data points, you would label column A [
and enter your data down the column
filling up rows until row 11.
See Fig. 1
for a visual.
You can also perform calculations in
If, for example, you measured the
time it took an object to cover a known
distance, and want to know the velocity,
you can use Excel to do the calculation.
After entering the time and distance data
into the spreadsheet, you will have two
columns of data, labeled distance and
You can now make a third column,
In this column you will
not enter data, but a function.
is in Column A and time is in Column B,
then you would put “=A2/B2” in the
Column you labeled velocity, say
Suggested layout for data.