What Is a Spreadsheet Cell?

Updated July 19, 2017

A spreadsheet is a computer software program that organises numerical data and provides functions that allow you to calculate these data. A spreadsheet cell holds a single datum, or numerical value. Cells are then organised into different columns and rows giving each cell an identifying label--for example, A1 (the cell in Column A, Row 1).

The First Electronic Spreadsheets

Computer spreadsheet programs originated from the idea of making accounting and simple calculations of data quicker and easier. The first spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, was created in 1979 to help businesses in their accounting procedures. Although the first spreadsheet program did not gain widespread popularity, other computer companies took the idea and ran with it. Now, there are a number of popular spreadsheet programs that help people in and outside of the business world organise and calculate data.

Spreadsheet Cells

A spreadsheet cell is a single placeholder of a datum, or numerical value. Often, a spreadsheet cell is represented in a spreadsheet program as a single, outlined box into which you can enter data. The size of the cell can be adjusted by dragging the side or top of the cell to your desired height or width. Although most cells will contain numerical values, certain areas of the spreadsheet might be dedicated to labels. In these areas, words can be entered instead of numbers.

Columns and Rows

A spreadsheet is organised into columns and rows. Columns are a vertical series of sequential cells and rows are a horizontal series of sequential cells. Generally, columns and rows are organised into categories. For example, one column might be dedicated to expenses in the month of January, while a row might be dedicated to expenses for a particular person. A spreadsheet cell can be labelled by its location in a column and row. For instance, cell A1 might refer to the spreadsheet cell in Column A and Row 1.


Most spreadsheet programs come with a number of functions that make calculating data quicker and easier. Once the data are entered into cells and organised into columns and rows, the data can then be calculated. Some of the more common calculating functions include summation, subtraction, multiplication and division of the data. The advantage of calculating data using a spreadsheet is that if a mistake is made when entering the original data, the mistake can be corrected in one cell without having to recalculate the data in all other columns and rows.

Popular Spreadsheet Software

There are now a number of spreadsheet software programs that are used in homes and offices around the world. Although most programs contain spreadsheet cells, columns and rows, many programs have their own way of executing calculation functions. Generally, calculation functions are automated using program-specific formulas. These formulas should be learnt with each program. Some of the most popular spreadsheet programs on the market today include: Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers and Open Office Calc.

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About the Author

Aaron Ponce began writing in 2008 and has published articles mainly about dog ownership on eHow. He received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Miami, a Master of Arts in linguistics from the University of Texas, a Juris Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology at Indiana University.