Normally, Excel uses what's known as A1 notation: Each cell address consists of a column letter and a row number. However, Excel also supports R1C1 notation. In this system, cell A1 is referred to as cell R1C1, cell A2 as R2C1, and so on.

To change to R1C1 notation, choose Tools ^ Options, click the General tab, and place a check mark next to the R1C1 reference style. After you do so, you'll notice that the column letters all change to numbers. All the cell and range references in your formulas are also adjusted.

Table 3-1 presents some examples of formulas that use standard notation and R1C1 notation. The formula is assumed to be in cell B1 (also known as R1C2).

Table 3-1 COMPARING SIMPLE FORMULAS IN TWO NOTATIONS

Standard

R1C1

If you find R1C1 notation confusing, you're not alone. R1C1 notation isn't too bad when you're dealing with absolute references. But when relative references are involved, the brackets can drive you nuts.

The numbers in brackets refer to the relative position of the references. For example, R[-5]C[-3] specifies the cell that's five rows above and three columns to the left. On the other hand, RC references the cell that's five rows below and three columns to the right. If the brackets are omitted, the notation specifies the same row or column. For example, RC refers to the cell five rows below in the same column.

Although you probably won't use R1C1 notation as your standard system, it does have at least one good use. Using R1C1 notation makes it very easy to spot an erroneous formula. When you copy a formula, every copied formula is exactly the same in R1C1 notation. This is true regardless of the types of cell references that you use (relative, absolute, or mixed). Therefore, you can switch to R1C1 notation and check your copied formulas. If one looks different from its surrounding formulas, there's a good chance that it might be incorrect.

In addition, if you write VBA code to create worksheet formulas, you might find it easier to create the formulas by using R1C1 notation.