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How to Create a Pivot Table in Excel: A Step-by-Step Tutorial (With Video)

March 15, 2016
Aaron Polmeer

By (Erik Devaney)

free guide: how to use excel

The pivot table is one of Excel’s most powerful — and intimidating — functions. Powerful, because it can help you summarize and make sense of large data sets. Intimidating, because you’re not exactly an Excel expert, and pivot tables have always had a reputation for being complicated.

Download our complete guide to using Excel here for more step-by-step Excel tutorials.

The good news: Learning how to create a pivot table in Excel is much, much easier than you’ve likely been led to believe. But before we walk you through process of creating one, let’s take a step back and make sure you understand exactly what a pivot table is, and why you might need to use one.

What Is a Pivot Table?

To quote Microsoft, a pivot table is a report that lets you, “summarize, analyze, explore, and present a summary” of your data. And it is particularly useful “when you have a long list of figures to sum, and aggregated data or subtotals would help you look at the data from different perspectives and compare figures of similar data.”

In other words, a pivot table lets you extract meaning from that seemingly endless jumble of numbers on your screen. And more specifically, it lets you group your data together in different ways so you can more easily make comparisons.

The “pivot” part of a pivot table stems from the fact that you can rotate (or pivot) the data in the table in order to view it from a different perspective. To be clear, you’re not adding to, subtracting from, or otherwise changing your data when you make a pivot. Instead, you’re simply reorganizing the data so you can extract useful information from it.

Use Cases for Pivot Tables

If you are still feeling a bit confused about what a pivot table actually does, don’t worry. This is one of those technologies that’s much easier to understand once you’ve seen it in action. So, here are two hypothetical scenarios where you’d want to use a pivot table.

Scenario #1: Comparing Sales Totals of Different Products

Say you have a worksheet that contains monthly sales data for three different products — product 1, product 2, and product 3 — and you want to figure out which of the three has been bringing in the most bucks. You could, of course, look through the worksheet and manually add the corresponding sales figure to a running total every time product 1 appears. You could then do the same for product 2, and product 3, until you have totals for all of them. Piece of cake, right?

Now, imagine that monthly sales worksheet of yours has thousands and thousands of rows. Manually sorting through them all could take a lifetime. Using a pivot table, you can automatically aggregate all of the sales figures for product 1, product 2, and product 3 — and calculate their respective sums — in less than a minute.

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Source:: HubSpot Blog