Quick, clean, and to the point

How to ask a question about Excel

by Dave Bruns | March 13, 2018

Every day, thousands of questions about Excel are posted on the internet. Many of these questions go unanswered because they are unclear, or too long and complicated. Below are six tips to write a better question that will attract good answers quickly.

1. Search for existing solutions

Try a search first to see if you can find an existing solution you can use or adapt. You can save a lot of time by finding a path others have already travelled.

2. State your goal clearly and briefly

Be clear about what you want. For example:

  • I need to calculate sales by month
  • I need to count orders on Wednesdays or Mondays
  • I need C1 to be blank unless there are numbers in A1 and B1
  • I need a date 10 days in the future excluding weekends

3. Show your formula

If your question is about a formula, show the exact formula you are trying to use. This helps people understand how you are thinking about the problem.

4. Include a screen shot

A picture is worth a thousand words. Do not try to explain your requirements at length in text. Instead, build a small example and upload a screen shot. Be sure to include two things: (1) sample data and (2) desired result. Make sure you your image shows Excel's rows and columns, so that people can use cell references when they propose solutions. For example:

Sample screenshot - how to highlight overdue invoices

To upload a screenshot to a comment, click the "upload image" button in the lower left corner of the comment area:

Click icon to upload image to comment

How to take a screenshot: Windows, Mac.

Please do not post a picture of your monitor, they are very difficult to read!

5. Reduce and simply

Do not upload a screenshot showing a worksheet with with a lot of data and formulas. It's very difficult to figure out a complicated worksheet from a screenshot, and most people won't try. Instead, build a tiny example on one worksheet.

Don't get into other questions unless they are closely related. Focus on one thing you need help with to move forward.

6. Post your question in the right place

On the Exceljet site, each page has a topic. Search the site first and try to ask your question on a page with a related topic. This makes it much more likely that others will see your question and be able to help.

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