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Loyola University Chicago Libraries

Spreadsheet Therapy: Cell inputs

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

Filling in cells

When it comes time to take data, the cell entries should be optimized for computer readability and portability across different computers and software packages. Choices of how to format and represent inputs should also be as consistent and clear as possible. Excel and other spreadsheet programs offer tools that can help you standardize these, as well as reduce the odds of errors while entering data.

Characters to use / avoid

  • Avoid accidentally adding in special and hidden characters from copy/paste
    • Line breaks and paragraph markers may not be readily obvious
    • Symbols may not display properly in some software/systems
    • Avoid undesirable extra spaces in cells -- there are excel functions that can help remove them
  • Represent zeroes and null values unambiguously
    • Fill in a measurement/count of zero explicitly - do not leave blank
    • To indicate a missing value...
      • Leave the cell blank, or
      • Choose a text indicator like "NA" or "-" and use it consistently throughout your documents

Best practices

  • Don't hard-code data into formulas
  • Keep wording and capitalization consistent
    • Develop conventions before you start taking data
    • Writing these in your metadata file can help you remember as you record data
  • Consider using Excel's data validation tools to standardize capitalization and avoid typos and nonsensical inputs
    • Create a drop-down list of allowed values. This lets you select an entry rather than typing it each time so capitalization and spelling remain the same
    • Restrict allowable numbers to avoid accidentally recording negative dates or impossible/nonsensical measurements