Functions: Help files

So what happens if the brief descriptions in the list of possible functions isn’t enough?

Most spreadsheets provide some sort of additional description and/or help file to, in theory, help someone use their functions. These help files are usually very helpful, once you know what you’re looking at! Unfortunately until you’re used to them they can be …less than useful. Plus, they can sometimes be hard to find.

The format varies by program, but each of the following things should appear somewhere.

  1. Help Link:Where to find the link that will take you to the expanded help file, containing the rest of this information .
  2. Info Box:Where to find the help information in the new window that opens up. For some programs the help information fills the entire window, and for others the actual help information takes up only part of it.
  3. Name:Where to find the name of the function.
  4. Category:Where to find what category this program puts this function in.
  5. Description:Where to find a sentence or two explaining the function, in relatively plain English.
  6. Syntax:Where to find the exact syntax to use when using this function. It’s like sentence structure — the sentence might be “I go to the store” but the syntax would be “noun verb prepositional-phrase.”
  7. Parameter definitions:Where to find an explanation for each parameter used by the function. Extending the sentence structure analogy, the definition for the parameter “noun” might be “Any person, place, or thing.”

In Excel 97:

  • Help Link: You have to have the Office Assistant installed. If you don’t, it’ll give you an error saying it couldn’t find the file when you try to access Help.
    1. In either the “Paste Function” window or in the window with the parameter fields, click on the button with the question mark, located on the lower left corner of the window.
    2. The Office Assistant will appear, and give you some options. Click on “Help with this feature”
    3. The OA will give you some more options. Click on “Help on selected function”.
    4. A new window will appear, containing the help information.
  • Info Box: Entire window.
  • Name: Top right corner, in large, capital letters.
  • Category: Immediately below the name, there is a link for “See also”. If you click it a new pop-up will appear, containing a number of relevant topics. Most of these topics will be single words in all caps, which are all functions. One will be in mixed upper and lowercase, and will end with ” functions”. This is the category.
  • Description: After the “See also” link there is a horizontal line, followed by the description.
  • Syntax: Below the description is the word “Syntax” in bold font, followed by the actual syntax of the function (also in bold).
  • Parameter definitions: Starting directly below the actual syntax of the function, the parameter definitions start with the name of the parameter, followed by a description of what it is, or what it’s for.

In Excel 2007:

  • Help link: In the “Insert Function” window, look in the lower left corner. There should be a link for “Help on this function”. If you click on it, a new window will pop up.
  • Info Box: Entire window.
  • Name:This is the first thing you’re likely to see in the window. It’s near the top, in a large, blue font.
  • Category: Just above the large blue header there’s a slightly grey line, with the words “Excel > Function reference >” and the category the function belongs to.
  • Description: This is directly below the large blue name header.
  • Syntax: After the description there’s the word Syntax in bold, followed by the actual syntax of the function (also in bold).
  • Parameter definitions:Starting directly below the actual syntax of the function, the parameter definitions start with the name of the parameter in bold, followed by a description of what it is, or what it’s for.

Note: Sometimes there are also “remarks” after the parameter definitions, which may provide additional information.

In Google Spreadsheet:

  • Help Link: In the “Insert a function” window, look in the bottom left corner of the box the description appears in. There should be a blue link for “more>>”. If you don’t see the link, use the scrollbar for that box to scroll down.
  • Info Box: Scroll down until you see a box /1-row table with a thick, light blue outline, on the left side of the screen. The headers are also on a blue background.
  • Name: The name of the function is in the second column.
  • Category: The category is in the first column.
  • Description: This is in the fourth column.
  • Syntax: This is in the third column.
  • Parameter definitions: These are included in the description.

In OpenOffice Calc:

  • Help Link: In the “Function Wizard” click on the leftmost button at the bottom, labeled “Help”.
  • Info Box: On the lefthand side of the screen. It’s a continuous list of all the functions, so the one you want help for may appear near the bottom of the screen. Simply scroll down until you see the start of a different entry.
  • Name: The start of each entry is the name of the function. It’s in all caps, bold, slightly larger font.
  • Category: Not identified
  • Description: Immediately below the syntax.
  • Syntax: A few lines below the name, immediately below the bolded word “Syntax”.
  • Parameter definitions: Included in the description.

In Microsoft Works Spreadsheet:

  • Help Link:
    1. In the spreadsheet itself (not in the insert function window) click on the “Help” header, then on “Works Help”. Or just hit the F1 key.
    2. In the window that appears, click on the Search tab.
    3. Enter the name of the function in the search box, and click on the “List Topics” button immediately below the search box.
    4. Select the one you want, and click on the “Display” button at the bottom of the window.
  • Info Box: Right panel in the help window.
  • Name: Second line, in the middle of the “What is the …. function?” link.
  • Category: In the step that starts with “Under Select a category…”
  • Description: Click on the “What is the …. function?” link.
  • Syntax: First line, preceeded by “Use”
  • Parameter definitions: Included in Description.
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