Making Sense of Pivot Tables

Why use Pivot Tables and How to Get What You Want

What do Pivot Tables do?

All Pivot Tables do is pull out specific information from a data set. That information is presented in table where we can see a summary of what we’re interested in.

How to Use Pivot Tables

It’s helpful to think of using Pivot Tables like we’re asking a question:

How many cups of Yellow Lemonade did Charlie sell?”excel pivot tables how to

Our question has 3 parts:

  1. Specific Item 1 (Type of Lemonade)
  2. Specific Item 2 (Sales Kid)
  3. How to Measure those Items (Cups Sold)

Note: The third part of the question has to involve some number value. Because Excel can only add up number values.

Using the Pivot Table Interface

To get to our Pivot Table Interface select all the data in your spreadsheet and click on the Pivot Table button (Insert tab). And click OK.  how to use pivot tables

On the Right hand side we see the “Field List”. At the top is the list of “Fields”(the columns from our spreadsheet), at the bottom are the “Field Areas”. You can drag-and-drop Fields into the Field Areas.

Column and Row Field Areas

Think of Field Areas as the parts of our question. The two Specific Items go in the Column/Row field areas. One in each.

Values Field Area

This is the third part of our question; how I want those items Measured (Cups Sold). Once we drag-and-drop here, we’ll see a complete table showing each kid and how much they sold of each type of lemonade!


Essentially we’re comparing two Specific Fields from our data set, and using some number value to present that comparison. Now try using a data set of your own!


Chelsea Dohemlearnit_chelseaann is a desktop instructor for LearniT! She teaches Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and other essential desktop applications.  When she isn’t absorbed in an Excel blog uncovering the coolest new tricks, she’s playing cribbage, learning French or playing a guitar near a campfire. Coming up Chelsea will be expanding her course oferrings to include Microsoft’s Lync, Visio, One Note, Excel Power User, Excel Power Pivot and VBA coding.