Finding Stories in Spreadsheets
Finding Stories in Spreadsheets
Recipes for interviewing data - and getting answers
About the Book
One spreadsheet can tell many stories. You just have to know the right questions to ask.
Based on a decade of training journalists and working with news organisations on data-driven stories, Finding Stories In Spreadsheets outlines the techniques for asking the right questions of data using tools like Excel and Google spreadsheets.
These aren't just questions about numbers: you'll find out how spreadsheet techniques can help you find the 'needle in the haystack' in text data. You'll learn how to clean up and modify your data so that you can ask it different questions, or get it ready for maps or charts, how to create new data from raw materials, and how to combine datasets to look for connections and trends.
With regular examples from journalism and real life data to work with, Finding Stories In Spreadsheets is *full* of those questions, in the language that spreadsheets understand.
Stories about change, stories in context: basic calculations
- Cell references
- Calculating a change
- Calculating a proportion
- Ratios: calculating a proportion as ‘1 in 10’
- Combining both: calculating what proportion a change is
Saving time to hit a deadline: repeating and fixing a calculation across cells
- Shortcut: repeating a calculation down hundreds of cells with one double-click
- What if I want to fix the cell reference so it doesn’t change when pasted?
- The last chapter’s story: are there more drunk and disorderly arrests?
How much did it cost? How many people were affected? The first function: adding a series of cells with
- If functions are recipes, arguments are the ingredients
- When there’s more than one ingredient: commas and semicolons
Who’s top, who’s bottom?
MIN, and sorting
- MAX and MIN
- The last chapter’s story: drunk and disorderly arrest totals
Detour: getting to know the spreadsheet - useful shortcuts and tips to avoid mistakes
- Keyboard shortcuts to explore your data quickly
- Changing your data: remove empty rows before the headings
Hitting the deadline: understanding and formatting the data - number or text
Best sellers and averages:
- Calculating an average: AVERAGE, MEDIAN or MODE?
- Man made or natural?
How many payments? How many people? Counting, not adding up:
- The story is what’s missing: COUNTBLANK
- The last chapter’s story: political donations
Only count if… setting criteria for a formula:
- Counting something specific
- Looking for cells containing words within sentences: the wildcards
- Trial and error: the single-cell test
- Counting against combined criteria: COUNTIFS
- The last chapter’s story: missing donations data?
If… continued: setting criteria for a sum:
- The last story: how many donations fit the bill?
Putting the story into context, or looking from a fresh angle: merging data from different tables using
- Dry run: two small tables on the same sheet
- Using VLOOKUP on data in different sheets
- Those pesky #N/A results
- The last chapter’s story: what proportion of donations came from small donors?
My data is dirty! Basic cleaning using
- Those pesky spaces
Getting rid of ‘non printing’ characters:
- And or ampersand? Substituting particular words or characters
- The last chapter’s story: baby name trends
Detour: generating consecutive numbers or dates
- Other number sequences
- Text sequences: days and months
- Getting more control over your ranges - the Fill Series option
Using more than one function at a time: nested functions
- Nesting functions
Generating categories and other extra data:
- Testing more than one thing - nested IF
- Hello operators: comparing beyond ‘greater than’ or ‘less than’
- Testing text: combining IF with other functions
- The last chapter’s story: simplifying names to make them consistent with another dataset
Detour: testing whether something is TRUE or FALSE
- Logical tests with text
- Adding up TRUE and FALSE
- Functions which return logical results
Finding errors or missing data - and testing data types:
- Functions for testing data types
- Functions that look for errors, or types of errors
ISfunctions in practice: an error-checking column
- The last chapter’s story: converting restaurant ratings into categories
Testing two things at once:
- Finding outliers at the top or bottom: OR
- Finding one of a series of possible text values: OR
- Finding numbers in the middle, or in a particular range: AND
- Applying criteria across multiple columns
IFto avoid multiple
- Making multiple negative tests
- The last chapter’s story: classifying non-rated hygiene reports
What day did that date fall on? Which year was the worst? Extracting days, months and years from full dates
- Extracting dates, months and years: DAY, MONTH and YEAR
- Extracting days and months as words or years as ‘66, ‘94 etc: TEXT
- Using the Format Cells ‘Custom’ option to do the same thing to existing dates
- Hours and minutes: HOUR, MINUTE, SECOND and TEXT again
- When things don’t go as you expect them to: dealing with errors in date functions
- Finding the story: which outlets have consistently bad scores?
How old is someone? Ages and using
- Breaking down the problem
- Calculating the years
- Checking whether a birthday comes before or after a date
- Making an adjustment based on the results
TODAYto calculate an age against today’s date
- Making it easy to understand: breaking the formula back up
- Other ways of calculating ages: the unsupported DATEDIF function
- Watching out for leap years in other calculations
- Finding the story: what years and months are worst for hygiene inspections?
Grabbing or checking the first, middle or last part of a piece of information:
- Grabbing characters from the beginning: LEFT
- Grabbing characters from the end: RIGHT
- Grabbing characters from the middle: MID
- What if the starting position or number of characters depends? Introducing LEN
- What if the starting position or number of characters depends? Part two: SEARCH and FIND
- Finding the story: how old are Guantanamo prisoners?
Case study: When you get data in sentences: using
SEARCHand error handling to extract numbers from phrases
- Break down the steps
Identify where the years/months are detailed: using
- Extract the number of years/months (and correct for problems)
- Handling an unnecessary space
- Converting to a common measure
- Manual cleaning: identifying unusual words
- Adding a ‘checking’ formulae
- Key points
Putting names, addresses and other data back together:
&and adding special characters with
The alternative to
- Tell the story: finding special characters
- The alternative to
More data cleaning: formatting text or numbers consistently with
Rounding and formatting numbers:
- Showing figures as millions or billions without all the zeroes
- Rounding and formatting numbers:
Changing rows into columns, and vice versa:
TRANSPOSEfunction in Excel - for when you need data to always be transposed
TRANSPOSEfunction in Google Sheets - no need for keyboard shortcuts
- The Paste Special option: the one-off transpose
Repeating calculations across multiple cells or to create the ingredients of a single function: array formulae
- Arrays in practice: back to the drunk and disorderly data
- Changing or extending an array formula
- Multiple calculations with one result: using an array formula in a single cell
- Generating your own arrays
- Array constants used in a formula
- The last chapter’s story: when’s the worst time to turn up at hospital?
- Detour: An introduction to Google Sheets - an always-connected spreadsheet tool
- Make sure the settings are for your country
Grabbing data from elsewhere -
Pulling data from another sheet:
Grabbing data from online CSVs and TXT files:
Grabbing data from webpage tables and lists:
Grabbing data from RSS feeds:
Grabbing data from an XML document - or a HTML webpage:
IMPORTXMLto grab data from HTML webpages
- Grabbing links and other values that are not in visible text
- Pulling data from another sheet:
Dealing with data in another language:
Detecting the language:
DETECTLANGUAGEas part of
- False friends and cognates
- Tip: translating a term to generate search URLs in other languages
IMPORTExercises - tips
- Detecting the language:
Converting currency or using stock prices:
Converting currency with
Grabbing stock values with
- Converting currency with
Publishing live data in a live chart
Exercise: grabbing and visualising live data with
IMPORTHTMLand live charts
Comparing change visually by generating sparkline charts for every row:
- Customising how the sparkline appears: bar charts
- Keeping it relative: specifying minimum and maximum scale
Last chapter exercise: grabbing and visualising live data with
IMPORTHTMLand live charts
- Writing a
Asking questions (or allowing users to), SQL-style:
Forming the question:
More complex clauses:
- Writing queries with multiple or alternative criteria
- Generating ‘hackable’ URLs which allow users to see the data their own way
- Using a form to allow users to generate their own results pages
QUERYbeing used in code
- Forming the question:
Adding some randomness: spreading out locations randomly using
RAND: Give me a number between 1 and 0
RANDBETWEEN: Give me a number between whatever I say!
- Exercise: generate random placemarks on a map - within reason
Is this value ranked high or low? What value is 3rd?
Finding values at a particular rank:
- Using the
What percentile is this at or above?
- Percentile functions
What percent of values are smaller?
What value is at the nth percentile?
- Exercise: using both sets of functions with marathon race times
Classifying data into top, middle and bottom quarters:
- Applying quartile values to classify data into four quarters
- Using the
Cross referencing and advanced cell references: naming cells and using
- Naming cells
- Cross-referencing cells based on values in other cells
Working out which index to grab:
- Exercise: Finding where schoolchildren go outside their area
Getting statistical: correlation with
CORRELand other ways of testing data
- How strong is the relationship between two columns of numbers?
- Once you have a result
- Try it out
The final chapter: next steps
- What else can Excel do? Add-ins, templates and VBA
- Tell me your problems
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