VBA for Excel: Definition, Directions and Alternatives

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 16 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many professionals use Microsoft Excel's spreadsheet-building tools to record and organise data, including wages and expenses. While Microsoft Excel has many common functions built into the program's interface, experienced coders might want more power to adjust the program's parameters, so they might use VBA, or Visual Basic for Applications, to add their own commands. If you're a programmer who uses Excel, learning more about this programming language can help you decide whether to use it in your work.

In this article, we define VBA Excel, explain why you might use this language, describe how to access the interface, list key components of the language and share alternate ways to customise your Excel sheets and workbooks.

What is VBA Excel?

VBA Excel is a programming language for Microsoft programs, including Word, Outlook and Excel. Using this language, skilled users can customise their experience with the Microsoft Suite. Depending on what they use Excel for, users might employ the language to create new programs, add automation to tasks they perform frequently and change the appearance of interface icons. They can also use the language to instruct the program to trigger certain functions automatically, which saves time on complex tasks. Because of its wide range of applications, this language can be challenging to learn for beginning programmers.

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Why might you use VBA Excel?

Here are some common reasons Excel users might employ this programming language:

To move data between Microsoft programs

Users who move lots of data between Microsoft programs might use this language to create commands that automatically move the data. This method may be appropriate for professionals who move between Microsoft products quickly and require a method to move data en masse. For example, you might collect and input data into an Excel spreadsheet and then export it to Access. If the data requires significant memory, it might be sensible to code the data transfer process.

Related: A Detailed Guide on How to Enter In Excel and Combine Text

To automate tasks

If you use Excel for regular, complex processes, then coding these tasks into the system might save you time. For example, if you use Excel to reformat lots of tables imported from other platforms and the new format is consistent, you might code the changes into the program using this language. The command might take place if the imported tables fit certain parameters.

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To create user prompts

You can use this language to modify Excel sheets and ask users to perform certain actions. Companies sometimes use Excel to store sensitive data, so the organisation's IT experts can code user prompts into certain sheets to ask for certain authorisations or passwords. You can also hide data from certain users unless they input a specific code.

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Key concepts for this programming language

This programming language shares several key concepts with other coding languages. Here are some of the most important concepts of this language:

  • Objects: Also called entities, objects are properties or methods made from code, including workbooks and cells. They can perform actions and receive or transmit information, based on the directions the user gives them.

  • Procedures or macros: These are the pieces of code that complete an action, like merging cells. They contain subroutines and functions.

  • Logical operators: These code lines or symbols indicate that the code might perform an action if certain conditions are met. An example is the 'If, then,' statement, which denotes an action if a cell contains a certain value.

  • Variables: These are locations or values within a program. Variables and arrays, which are groups of variables, allow a program to sort and label data.

  • MsgBox: This dialogue box allows programmers to send messages to certain users. You might use it to tell your users about the changes you've made to Excel's code.

Related: A Guide on How to Insert an Object in Excel (With Steps)

How to use VBA Excel

Consider taking a course in coding if you have never done so before, so you can learn the basics of this language and general practises for programming. Once you've learnt the language, you can begin customising your Excel use. Here's how to access Excel's code for customisation:

1. Open the VBA window

There are two main ways to open the VBA window, which allows you to change the code. The first way is to open the program and use a shortcut to open the window. Hold down the 'ALT' key and press 'F11' to open the window. If you plan to edit the code continuously, you might add the VBA window to your program's ribbon, which is at the top of the screen. From the main window, select 'File,' followed by 'Options' and 'Customise ribbon.' Select the 'Main tabs' option and then choose 'Developer.' Click 'Okay' to set the change.

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2. Choose which section to access

The VBA window has three main sections, each with its own function:

  • The File structure tree allows you to create new procedures or macros.

  • The Properties section lets you create a new graphical interface.

  • The Coding section lets you edit the code.

Choose the section that meets your needs. As you become more familiar with the interface, this process might become easier.

3. Edit the code

Using your coding skills, add new macros or edit the objects within the variables. You can also create messages that you send to certain users when they open the program or perform actions. If you have a spreadsheet open while you edit the code, consider saving a copy of it in case the coding changes affect the content of the sheet.

Alternatives to VBA Excel

If you want to customise your Excel experience without using a programming language, there are several tasks you can perform within the program itself. Here are three ways to adapt your Excel program:

Learn keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts can help you save time on simple actions or those that you don't perform often. You can use these keyboard shortcuts to accomplish a variety of tasks, including closing a workbook, returning to the home screen, inserting a row or column and saving a sheet. You can find all of the available shortcuts on Microsoft's support page for Excel. Consider writing down shortcuts for actions that you take often and posting the list next to your computer screen or on your desk. That way, you can access them easily.

If you often perform complex tasks, then you might consider a programming solution, but shortcuts can help you with most basic Excel functions. For example, if you use Excel to track expenses, you might copy the original sheet and paste it into a new tab every month using shortcuts for selecting, copying and pasting. You might also use a shortcut for duplicating a sheet in a new tab. Hold the CTRL key down and click on the sheet's tab at the bottom of the page. Drag it over to a blank space on the tab row to duplicate it.

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Adjust cell properties

If you want to change the way the cells in a spreadsheet appear, you can adjust each cell's colour and size or apply a style to the entire sheet. To choose a cell style, select the 'Styles' group on the Home tab of the sheet. Then, select 'Cell Styles,' followed by 'More.' Use the tools on this menu to choose templates that use varying colours and font sizes to highlight certain pieces of data. You can also create a custom cell style by clicking 'New Cell Style' on the 'Cell Styles' menu and setting parameters for colours and fonts.

Related: How to Find Circular References in Excel (With FAQs)

Use copy and paste or import

While the programming route might be an effective way to move large amounts of data between Microsoft applications, it may not be necessary for smaller amounts of information. You can copy and paste cells, columns and rows into different spreadsheets and even into other Microsoft programs, like Microsoft Word. To copy and paste cells, use your cursor to highlight the cells you want to copy. Then, press 'CTRL+C' to copy the data. Open the document or sheet you want to send the data to and press 'CTRL+V' to paste it in the new location.

If you want to copy an entire sheet, you can use this method, but you can also save it and import it into another document or program. To save your sheet, click 'File' and then 'Save' or select the floppy disk icon on the toolbar. Then, open the document you want to add the data to and click Insert. Then, select 'Object' to launch the 'Object' menu. Click 'Create from File' and select the sheet from its folder. Once you've imported the sheet, you can adjust it within the new location.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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