Author: Tracy Syrstad and Bill Jelen
Publisher: Que, 2010
Aimed at: Those with some experience of Excel
Pros: Good techniques well presented
Cons: Lacks explanation and motivation
Reviewed by: Janet Swift
As the title proclaims, this is more than just a book. Does it give you more in practice?
Titles in Que's Using series have extra material that is available once you register ownership of your book.
There are two types of online extra.
Where you see a Tell Me More symbol there's an audio clip and the Show Me icon signals a short video.
On the whole I was impressed by the videos which quickly conveyed practical techniques that would otherwise have taken lots of words and screen dumps. The audio clips didn't seem as successful but luckily most of the ideas presented that way were also in the text. The third, and most frequent icon depicts a mouse for Let me Try It which gives a series of steps to follow to achieve a task.
This book doesn't distinguish the new features of Excel 2010 from those of the 2007 version. What is does do is make it clear that these two, with what is described as 'the intuitive Ribbon interface' are to be considered separate from the 'legacy versions' (2003 and earlier) which have a menu system that is 'harder to learn'.
It introduces Excel Starter, the cut-down version of Excel that ships with new PCs in place of Microsoft Works and has the advantage of being compatible with Excel 2010, It also includes a chapter on the Excel WebApp and SkyDrive.
The thing that is missing from this book is a basic getting started chapter. This makes it unsuitable as a book for complete beginners - although given there is plenty of getting started material available on the Microsoft website this is not necessarily a criticism. However, be prepared for the book to dive in at what you might not consider the beginning and to weave a disjointed path through the material.
For example the first chapter, Getting to Know the Excel Interface, starts with customising the Ribbon and ends with Saving as PDF, Opening Templates and Troubleshooting Excel Options. Chapter 3 on Entering Data in Excel opens with the Fill Handle and quickly moves on to Joining Text, Data Validation is its final topic.
On the whole I would have welcomed more explanation and, particularly in the chapter on functions more motivation by way of discussing what it is possible to do with Excel's many features. The Let Me Try It sections succeed in giving users practice at useful techniques - but sometimes users are not going to appreciate why they are useful techniques. For example while I was really impressed with the video Creating a Pivot Table which makes a potentially confusing technique seem straightforward I did feel it missed the opportunity to give users an understanding of what is going on to that might help them know why and when simplify data in this way.
Some extra flesh on the bones is included in the audio clips but there was one clip I wanted to argue with - or at least extend. The clip in question is titled The Importance of Choosing the Right Chart Type, but rather than point out the essential difference between continuous and categorical data it doesn't make this distinction but instead considers design characteristics based on label length and number of categories. It also discusses the overuse of pie charts which I tend to agree with - but as long as you convert numbers to percentages so that you are working in terms of proportions a pie chart is always a perfectly good option. Even so the chapter is strong on all the mechanics and will enable readers to produce good looking and informative charts.