by Jack Dougherty, last updated March 1, 2017
Spreadsheets are wonderful tools to organize data into tables of rows and columns. With a spreadsheet, you can sort, filter, calculate, aggregate, and reorganize information to help you find the stories buried inside.
Four common spreadsheet tools:
|Google Sheets||Free, online collaborative spreadsheet on Google Drive. Requires free account.|
|Microsoft Excel Online||Free online spreadsheet on Microsoft OneDrive. Requires free account. Cannot open CSV generic spreadsheet files.|
|Microsoft Excel desktop||Not free (US $100+) spreadsheet for Mac or Windows desktop, as part of Microsoft Office.|
|LibreOffice||Free, open-source alternative to Microsoft Office desktop. Donation requested during download.|
Which spreadsheet tool should you use? That depends on how you wish to share and store data for your project.
- If you are the only person working on a data project, use any spreadsheet tool.
- If you need to protect private data, avoid online tools and use any desktop spreadsheet.
- If you need to share live data with others, use Google Sheets.
This introductory online book features Google Sheets because it's a free and easy-to-learn tool for collaborating and sharing data with others. The basic spreadsheet methods shown here are very similar across all spreadsheet tools. But advanced users may need more complex tools to manage very large datasets, or relational databases, or to perform deeper analysis.
If you're new to spreadsheets or want to refresh your skills, see the following chapters:
- Upload and Convert to Google Sheets
- Make a Copy with Google Sheets
- Share with Google Sheets
- Save as CSV or ODS Format
- Sort and Filter Data
- Calculate with Formulas
- Group Data with Pivot Tables
- Match Data with VLookup
- Collect and Share Survey Data with Google Forms
Enroll in our free online course, which offers more spreadsheet exercises and opportunities to interact with instructors and other learners.
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