A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

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Introduction

A function is a predefined formula that performs calculations using specific values in a particular order. All spreadsheet programs include common functions that can be used for quickly finding the sum, average, count, maximum value, and minimum value for a range of cells. In order to use functions correctly, you'll need to understand the different parts of a function and how to create arguments to calculate values and cell references.

Watch the video below to learn more about using functions in Excel.

In order to work correctly, a function must be written a specific way, which is called the syntax. The basic syntax for a function is an equals sign (=), the function name (SUM, for example), and one or more arguments. Arguments contain the information you want to calculate. The function in the example below would add the values of the cell range A1:A20.

A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

Working with arguments

Arguments can refer to both individual cells and cell ranges and must be enclosed within parentheses. You can include one argument or multiple arguments, depending on the syntax required for the function.

For example, the function =AVERAGE(B1:B9) would calculate the average of the values in the cell range B1:B9. This function contains only one argument.

A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

Multiple arguments must be separated by a comma. For example, the function =SUM(A1:A3, C1:C2, E2) will add the values of all cells in the three arguments.

A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

There are a variety of functions. Here are some of the most common functions you'll use:

  • SUM: This function adds all the values of the cells in the argument.
  • AVERAGE: This function determines the average of the values included in the argument. It calculates the sum of the cells and then divides that value by the number of cells in the argument.
  • COUNT: This function counts the number of cells with numerical data in the argument. This function is useful for quickly counting items in a cell range.
  • MAX: This function determines the highest cell value included in the argument.
  • MIN: This function determines the lowest cell value included in the argument.

To use a function:

In our example below, we'll use a basic function to calculate the average price per unit for a list of recently ordered items using the AVERAGE function.

  1. Select the cell that will contain the function. In our example, we'll select cell C11.

    A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

  2. Type the equals sign (=) and enter the desired function name. In our example, we'll type =AVERAGE.

    A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

  3. Enter the cell range for the argument inside parentheses. In our example, we'll type (C3:C10). This formula will add the values of cells C3:C10 and then divide that value by the total number of cells in the range to determine the average.

    A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

  4. Press Enter on your keyboard. The function will be calculated, and the result will appear in the cell. In our example, the average price per unit of items ordered was $15.93.

    A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

Your spreadsheet will not always tell you if your function contains an error, so it's up to you to check all of your functions. To learn how to do this, check out the Double-Check Your Formulas lesson.

If you want to learn how a function works, you can start typing that function in a blank cell to see what it does.

A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

You can then type an open parenthesis to see what kind of arguments it needs.

A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

Understanding nested functions

Whenever a formula contains a function, the function is generally calculated before any other operators, like multiplication and division. That's because the formula treats the entire function as a single value—before it can use that value in the formula, it needs to run the function. For example, in the formula below, the SUM function will be calculated before division:

A function that calculates totals, averages, determines the highest/lowest value and counts

Let's take a look at a more complicated example that uses multiple functions:

=WORKDAY(TODAY(),3)

Here, we have two different functions working together: the WORKDAY function and the TODAY function. These are known as nested functions, since one function is placed, or nested, within the arguments of another. As a rule, the nested function is always calculated first, just like parentheses are performed first in the order of operations. In this example, the TODAY function will be calculated first, since it's nested within the WORKDAY function.

Other common functions

There are many other functions you can use to quickly calculate different things with your data. Learning how to use other functions will allow you to solve complex problems with your spreadsheets, and we'll be talking more about them throughout this tutorial. You can also check out our articles below to learn about specific functions:

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The AVERAGEIF function returns the average of cells in a range that meet criteria you provide.

Calculate the average of a group of numbers

AVERAGE function

AVERAGEIF function

The AVERAGEIF function returns the average of cells in a range that meet criteria you provide.

Let’s determine the average for sales that are greater than $60000.

Type an = sign, AVERAGEIF, opening parenthesis (in this example, we are going to evaluate and average the same range of cells, C2 through C5, in the Sales column), comma, then we type the criteria against which the range is evaluated, enclosed in quotes (you put it in quotes so Excel interprets the operator and value correctly), in this example, greater than 60000.

Don’t type a comma in 60000. Excel would interpret that as a separator for arguments of the function and return an error.

And press Enter. Excel automatically adds the closing parenthesis to the formula.

The average for sales greater than $60000 is $71229.

Let’s walk through this.

The function evaluates how many cells in the Sales column meet the criteria of greater than 60000. There are three cells.

The function then averages these cells.

Now we’ll use the AVERAGEIF function to determine the average for sales where the number of orders is greater than 50.

In this example, one range of cells is evaluated against the criteria and a second range of cells is averaged.

We type = AVERAGEIF, opening parenthesis, the range of cells we want evaluated (cells B2 through B5) in the number of orders column, comma, the criteria by which the range is to be evaluated enclosed in quotes (greater than 50), comma, the range of cells we want to average (cells C2 through C5 in the Sales column), and press Enter.

The average for sales where the number of orders is greater than 50 is $66487.

Let’s walk through this one, too.

First, the function evaluates which cells in B2 through B5 meet the criteria of greater than 50.

Three cells meet the criteria. The function then averages the cells from the Sales column where the criteria is met by the corresponding cell in column B.

For more information about the AVERAGEIF function, see the course summary at the end of the course.

Up next, Weighted average.