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Loyola University Chicago Libraries

Spreadsheet Therapy

Principles of "data tidiness" to make spreadsheets easier to manage, use, and understand.

Using Columns

  • Each column should...
    • Correspond to a single "variable"
      • A thing you might measure, or that can change from measure to measure, instance to instance
  • Contain only a single "type" of data
    • Separate text from numbers
      • Instead of "4 pm", use "16:00", or separate columns for "4" and "pm"
      • Instead of putting units in the same cell as a numeric measurement, try...
        • Placing in a separate column
        • Making part of column header
        • Identifying in a separate file containing metadata
    • Don't put notes about your data in the same column as the data itself. Instead, try...
      • Defining a separate column for notes and callouts
      • Putting notes in a separate metadata file

Handling Dates

  • When you can, avoid using Excel's built-in Date format
    • Excel files from different regions may index dates differently, leading to inaccuracies when importing/exporting data
    • However, you may prefer the Date format if you expect to perform calculations on dates, such as
      • Calculating the number of days or weekdays between two dates
      • Automatically referencing the current date
  • Alternatives to the Date format
    • Store dates as plain text
    • Store dates in three columns for month, day, and year
      • Month Day Year or Month Day Year
        02 25 2020   February 25 2020
  • Whichever you choose, set column formats to text, numbers, or dates as appropriate before you begin recording data