Excel is a powerful tool that can organize, analyze, and visualize data in a variety of ways. Because of it’s versatility, it’s a great tool for projects ranging from complex data analysis to family budgets, for the professional and the novice. Regardless of what level user you are, there will probably come a time when you will need help with an Excel formula. Perhaps the answer you’re getting isn’t what you’re expecting, or maybe the formula you’re trying to use is producing an error, despite your best effort to follow the in-line help prompt on how to format a formula.

This is where ChatGPT, as well as Google’s Bard, comes in. Both AI’s can provide help with creating Excel formulas, troubleshooting formula errors and so on. The question is, how can you best ask questions about Excel so that the answer you receive is actually useful to you? In this post, we’ll cover some best practices for formulating your request and getting the most accurate and helpful answers.

Be specific with your question

When asking ChatGPT a question about an Excel formula, it’s important to be as specific as possible regarding your problem. Don’t just ask, “how do I do this?” Instead, provide details about what you’re trying to accomplish, what you’ve tried so far, and any specific challenges you’re facing. For example, instead of asking “how do I create a pivot table?”, you might ask, “how do I create a pivot table that shows the total sales for each product category by month?” Or, instead of asking “how do I calculate the sum?”, you might ask “how do I sum the data starting in B2 and ending in G2?”

Provide context

In addition to being specific, it’s important to provide a context for your question. This could include information about the data you’re working with, the purpose of your analysis, or any constraints or requirements you’re working under. Providing context will help ChatGPT understand your question better and provide a more accurate and relevant answer. This is especially important when you are dealing with complex formulas. For example, I asked Bard to troubleshoot a SUMIFS statement that wasn’t working correctly for me. The answer I was given was technically correct, but it wasn’t the correct answer for my particular situation. I had to be more specific about the context to get the right answer.

Use clear and concise language

When formulating your question to ChatGPT, it’s important to use clear and concise language. Avoid using technical jargon or acronyms that might be unfamiliar to ChatGPT. Use simple language and try to explain your problem in a way that is easy to understand. I try to think about how I would explain something technical to someone without understanding of that particular problem. For example, how do I explain a pivot table to my computer illiterate grandfather? Ok, perhaps that’s extreme, but I think you get my point.

Explain your desired outcome

When asking ChatGPT a question about an Excel formula, it’s important to explain what you’re trying to achieve. What is your desired outcome? What result are you hoping to see from your analysis? By explaining your desired outcome, you’ll help ChatGPT understand the bigger picture and provide a more targeted solution.

Be patient

As a large language model, ChatGPT is capable of providing accurate and helpful answers to a wide range of questions, including those about Excel formulas. However, it may take a few moments for ChatGPT to process your question and provide a response. Be patient and allow ChatGPT time to provide a thoughtful and accurate answer.

Ask follow-up questions

If you don’t fully understand ChatGPT’s answer or if you need additional information, ask follow-up questions. This also goes back to the prior point. ChatGPT remembers prior repsonses in your chat, which means that you can build on one answer by asking specific questions about the answer you received. If the answer you received is unclear,  you can ask clarifying questions about a portion of ChatGPT’s answer.

Use appropriate resources

Of course, remember that ChatGPT and Bard are AI’s and will not always give you the right answer, or may be missing context. For example, in some instances when I have requested code examples, the code I receive in response may be factually correct but the answer was missing information about setup, or other external resources needed to run the code. It’s always good to cross-reference with regular Google searches if you are unsure, and especially if an answer you receive isn’t working. In fact, at times, looking at examples on one of the many Excel websites may be a better course of action as they may deal more directly with you situation. Of course, you can always ask both ChatGPT and Bard the same question and see what answers they provide. Sometimes they answers are very similiar, sometimes they’re different.

Practice, practice, practice

Finally, the best way to improve your skills with Excel formulas is to practice. Although using AI bots can be a quick way to achieve what you need, it can also hinder your own learning by depending too much on your favorite AI to do the thinking for you. It’s important to experiment with different formulas and techniques on your own, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. By practicing and learning from your mistakes, you’ll become more confident and proficient in using Excel formulas.

In conclusion, asking ChatGPT (and Bard) questions about Excel formulas can be a great way to get expert help and guidance. To get the most out of your interactions with ChatGPT, be specific with your questions, provide context and examples, use clear and concise language, explain your desired outcome, be patient, ask follow-up questions, provide feedback, use appropriate resources, and practice. By following these tips and tricks, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an Excel formula expert yourself.