Oh, have times changed. When I was a kid, my parents always told me, “no ifs, ands, or buts”. Now, Microsoft Excel wasn’t around at that time or I could’ve provided a better argument for using these words. The solution lies with Excel’s IF function, which is a versatile logical function for handling many scenarios. I’ll show two easy ways how to use this function. (Includes Excel worksheet with formula examples.)
What is Excel’s IF Function?
The IF function is one of simplest and useful Excel functions. It can fill cell fields for you based on evaluating a condition. You can find it in the Logical category.
The wizard-like dialog allows you to fill 3 Function Arguments or data elements. This is the easiest way if you’re just learning Excel formulas as you can see if the function returns your expected result. At the bottom of the dialog, there is a line that reads “Formula result =“.
The Function Arguments
|Logical_test||A test on a cell value that is either TRUE or FALSE.|
|Value_if_true||The value Excel will put in a cell if the test is true.|
|Value_if_false||The value Excel will put in a cell if the test fails.|
Despite not having Microsoft Excel, my parents routinely employed this type of logic when calculating my allowance. Their version read:
IF you empty the garbage AND mow the lawn AND wash the dishes AND walk the dog, you get your full allowance. And since I grew up in New England, this logic would change with the seasons to account for things like leaves and snow.
Setting Up the IF Function
Although Excel can’t issue an allowance, it can calculate the amount using a logic test based on whether a cell met a formula condition.
For example, I could create a spreadsheet with the tasks needed to get an allowance. If the task was completed, (TRUE situation) a value would be applied toward the allowance. If the task wasn’t completed, (FALSE situation), nothing would be added.
These examples are noted by labels  and  in the screen snap below.
Using the example above, you might express the logic in the following way:
IF cell B2 equals “Y” , then use the Rate value in cell C2 ($3.00).
IF cell B2 does not equal “Y”, then place 0 in cell D2.
As you can see in this example, the IF logical condition is either TRUE or FALSE. And it pays to take out the garbage.
To enter your IF Function Arguments,
- Click the spreadsheet cell where you wish to use the Excel formula.
- From the Formulas tab, click Insert function…
- In the Insert Function dialog text box, type “if“.
- Make sure your cursor is in the Logical_test text box.
- Click the spreadsheet cell you wish to evaluate. Excel will fill in the cell reference such as “B2”.
- Add the equals sign = and your desired value in quotes. For example =”Y”.
- In the Value_if_true field, type the value you would like entered in your cell if B2 equals “Y”. In our example, I’ll click cell C3.
- In the Value_if_false: field enter the value the cell should have if B2 does not have a “Y”. I’ll enter 0. I could leave it blank, but the cell would show “FALSE”
- Review the dialog to see if the Formula result= value (label 1 below) is what you expect. If not, check to see if any errors show to the right of the fields (label  below).
- Click OK.
- Copy the formula to the other cells in your column.
Excel IF Example 2
The above spreadsheet might have been Version 1 for my parents. A new incentive program would appear based on some parent/child negotiations and competitive neighborhood rates. I probably would’ve fought for pay on partial tasks. No doubt, my parents would counter with a penalty clause if something was less than half done.
Excel is flexible when it comes to IF statements and can evaluate more than a simple “Y” or “N”. For example, if we convert our previous Done? column to a % Done column with a number, we can accommodate these new requirements.
The new formula returns the allowance off the % Done column. If the task completion number is greater than .5, a prorated amount was applied to the allowance. If the task completion rate was .5 or below, a negative amount was applied to the allowance. Loosely translated, a “half-assed” performance cost money.
Excel’s IF function is a versatile and useful function. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll start using it in more scenarios. The two examples presented here were foundational. But you can use IF functions to handle other transactions such as applying sales tax, shipping charges, fixing Excel DIV 0 errors or even nested IF functions with Boolean logic. And if you have kids, let them build the Excel spreadsheet and give them a bonus for using the IF function.