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SPSS or Excel

Why use a data analysis package like SPSS when you could use Excel? I’ve just come across an interesting marketing piece from SPSS that goes into benefits one gets from using a dedicated data analysis package instead of trying to do all of your analysis in a spreadsheet. While it would be fair to expect that this isn’t necessary an unbiased comparison, it might offer some food for thought to those of you trying to figure out why you should bother to upgrade.

Key reasons offered by “Discover Secrets Your Spreadsheet Can’t Tell You”:

  • Easy access to descriptive statistics and frequencies: True. while you can do descriptives in Excel using some of the built-in functions and the data analysis add-in, it is a lot easier and faster in SPSS.
  • Wider variety of charts & graphs: True, although I tend to find Excel easier to manage
  • Better, more flexible pivot tables Sortof true. That is, true if you have SPSS Tables. If you don’t, then in my opinion Excel pivot tables are easier to work with. SPSS Tables, on the other hand, is extremely easy to use and lets you do a lot more things that you can’t do with Excel Pivot Tables.
  • Full set of statistical tests: True. While it is definitely possible to run statistical tests in Microsoft Excel, they’re much harder to find and work with compared to SPSS, where they pretty much come “free” with every function you run.
  • Easy to run similar reports and graphics for subsets: True. Using the “Split” function in SPSS, it is relatively easy to create tables and charts for subsets without doing any extra work. Or you can create syntax (SPSS’s macro language) that lets you reuse your tables and codes over and over again.
  • Labels instead of codes in your reports: I love this feature. Just because your survey software makes Male=1 and Female=2 doesn’t mean you want to see lots of 1s and 2s in your reports. And while it isn’t difficult to use search/replace in Excel to change all of your 1s to Male and your 2s to Female, SPSS lets you keep your values intact.
  • Accurate results when some data is missing: Sortof true. For this item, they point to the benefits you get from using the SPSS Missing Value Analysis add-on module (an extra $800 or so). This tells you whether the questions that were skipped by your respondents will impact your analysis, and will even estimate what these values should have been. Obviously Excel can’t do anything like that, but keep in mind you need to buy the extra module to get it to work.
  • Helps you spot data-entry errors or unusual data points: Certainly SPSS can help with this one, but I think you can get these types of results pretty easily in Excel.
  • Easy import functions: I’m not sure that I completely agree with this one. It is true that it is easy to bring in text files. And they do provide functionality to bring in ODBC databases, including Excel spreadhsheets, Access tables and SPSS databases. But the interface for doing so is a little funky and the experience isn’t as clean or smooth as it is with Excel.
  • Unlimited rows: This point describes how SPSS can handle an unlimited number of rows while Excel can only handle 65,000. Microsoft Excel 2007 can handle unlimited rows too, but SPSS’s assertion may have been true when the article was published.
  • Using SPSS saves time and increases productivity: I suppose that really depends on what it is that you’re trying to do. There are a lot of analysis that I find easier to do in Excel. But certainly if you’re doing statistical analysis it is easier and faster in SPSS.
  • SPSS makes it easy to understand statistical results. SPSS has added a lot of extra help files and tutorials that explain how you can/should interpret a lot of the statistical jargon that the software spits out. Excel obviously does not.

A few reasons why I still do a lot of stuff in Excel:

  • For most people, the learning curve is much less steep with Excel: Learning SPSS was initially an unpleasant experience. It has a lot of options that don’t make sense until after you’ve spent a lot of time with the program. Once you’ve learned the software you’ll be amazed that you ever lived without it (or some other data analysis package) but until then you’ll spend a lot of time cursing it.
  • It’s expensive. Especially if you already have Excel. Expect to spend over $1,700 for a copy.
  • Charts are easier to manage/control in Excel: In my opinion. While SPSS has a lot of neat charting features, they aren’t as dynamic as Excel’s chart functionality — that is, when creating a presentation, I often need to go back in and tweak the charts or rearrange the data or rearrange the bars. In Excel, this is as easy as editing the underlying spreadsheet, which would automatically update the Powerpoint. In SPSS, you have to recreate the chart and recopy it into the presentation.
  • More flexible use of functions: Excel has a lot more functions than SPSS and gives you more flexibility in how you use them.

Read “Discover Secrets your Spreadsheet Can’t Tell You”

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