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Cynthia Frownfelter-Lohrke


Over sixty percent of AIS courses cover Excel because it is an important tool for accounting students to learn and master.

Although spreadsheet programs like Excel provide powerful analytical tools for business, in practice, they are often created and used by people with minimal programming experience. Consequently, users can often develop spreadsheets containing critical errors, which, in turn, can cause significant losses for their businesses.

Errors can be reduced, however, by learning and employing good spreadsheet design techniques. Good spreadsheet design also makes it easier to update and continue to use a spreadsheet over time.

This paper describes a method for teaching spreadsheet design where students complete three spreadsheet assignments in an iterative and repetitive process. By the time students have completed these assignments, they will have acquired good spreadsheet design skills and improved their basic Excel skills.


Sequence for project implementation
Sequence for project implementation

This project can be implemented by utilizing one to one and one-half 75-min class meetings and three separate spreadsheet assignments.

The students are provided with a list of ten specific steps for creating a spreadsheet:

  • Determine what the output or reports will look like.
  • Determine what inputs (data or assumptions) will be needed to create the output.
  • Determine the processes/calculations necessary to convert the inputs into the outputs.
  • Design the structure by determining how many worksheets will be needed.
  • Input or copy the inputs into the appropriate worksheets.
  • Create the calculations sheet or sheets by using cell references to input (data or assumptions).
  • Create the output by using cell references from the input and calculation sheets.
  • Create documentation by filling in the identification sheet and descriptions.
  • Go through the generic spreadsheet checklist.
  • Test the spreadsheet by recalculating some of the results.


2017, Journal of Accounting Education, Volume 39, pages 68-83

Full article

Teaching good Excel design and skills: A three spreadsheet assignment project