Pivot tables summarise big data sets making it easier to perform mathematical and statistical analyses on them. The classic example includes three or more pieces of information, for instance: (1) how many items of a certain type were sold; (2) where they were sold; and (3) when they were sold. Spreadsheets normally only analyse information across rows or down columns.

Essentially, a pivot table is a second table, separate from the original summarising its content. By ‘pivoting’ the table in different ways, various calculations can be performed, including sums and counts. For some reason pivot tables were dropped from Excel 2008; thankfully, they’re back, and not only can Excel 2011 generate pivot tables, it does so with grace and simplicity.

1. Organise the data  Here, three types of data have been put in columns: the computers sold by a chain of stores, the month they were sold in, and the location of the store where that computer was sold. Note the headings at the top of each column. Make sure there are no blank spaces; if need be, use zeros instead.

2. Automatic Pivot Tables  Select Data on the Ribbon. Click on a cell within the data set, hold down the PivotTable button on the Ribbon, then choose Create Automatic PivotTable from the menu that appears. The PivotTable Builder window opens with a draft version of the pivot table on a new sheet in the Excel workbook.