Cell Reference

A cell reference, or cell address, is an alphanumeric value used to identify a specific cell in a spreadsheet. Each cell reference contains one or more letters followed by a number. The letter or letters identify the column and the number represents the row.

In a standard spreadsheet, the first column is A, the second column is B, the third column is C, etc. These letters are typically displayed in the column headers at the top of the spreadsheet. If there are more than 26 columns, the 26th column is labeled Z, followed by AA for column 27, AB for column 28, AC for column 29, etc. Column 55 is labeled BA. Rows simply increment numerically from top to bottom starting with "1" for the first row.

Examples of cell references are listed below:

  1. First column, seventh row: A7
  2. Tenth column, twentieth row: J20
  3. Sixty-first column, three hundred forty-second row: BI342
  4. One thousand column, two thousandth row: ALL2000

Cell references are helpful in two ways: 1) They provide an easy way to locate a specific value within a spreadsheet, and 2) they are used in creating formulas.

Locating Values

If you are reviewing a spreadsheet with another user, you can simply use the column/row combination to reference a specific cell. You can also use the "Go To..." feature to jump to a specific cell. This is especially helpful when working with large spreadsheets that have hundreds or thousands of cells.

Creating Formulas

Most spreadsheet programs support formulas that can be used to calculate values based on the contents of other cells. For example, a cell may contain the function:


The above function will automatically populate the cell with the value stored in cell D8 divided by the value in E10. If G2 contains the function above, and D8 is 20 and E10 is 5, then G2 will display the value 4. A cell may also simply display the value of another cell. For instance, if G3 contained the function =D8, it would display 20 (the value stored in D8).

Updated November 15, 2016 by Per C.

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