Section 1.3: Statistics With Spreadsheets

Fundamentals of Social Statistics by Adam J. McKee

Think of spreadsheets like digital grid paper. Each square, or cell, can hold unique pieces of data. This data could be anything—numbers, words, or even formulas. But for statisticians, numbers are the real stars.

In statistics, spreadsheets prove especially valuable because they can do math fast. Not just the simple stuff either. They can handle complex calculations involving multiple steps. For instance, suppose you wanted to find the average height of a group of people. Instead of adding all the heights and dividing by the number of people (which could take a while if you have many people), you can tell the spreadsheet to do it. Just point it to the right cells, and it does all the hard work. It’s like having a personal math assistant!

The Structure of Spreadsheets

At the heart of every spreadsheet is the table. This is where your data lives. The table is made up of rows and columns, like the lines on grid paper. Rows run horizontally, left to right, while columns run vertically, up and down.

Each cell in the table has an address based on its row and column. For example, the cell in the second row of the first column is called ‘A2’. This cell referencing is how we can tell our digital math assistant where to find the data it needs for calculations.

Familiarizing with Excel: A Popular Spreadsheet Program

There are many spreadsheet programs out there, but Microsoft’s Excel is a standout. Its popularity and widespread use make it a go-to choice for many users, including students and researchers. Excel provides a multitude of features, making it a robust tool for various statistical tasks.

If you want to compute basic statistics, Excel can certainly deliver. It’s not just about the number crunching; Excel offers numerous built-in functions to carry out these tasks. Need an average? There’s a function for that. Looking for the highest number? Excel has a function for that too.

Other Spreadsheet Options and Specialized Software

While Excel is a powerful and versatile tool, it’s not the only player in the game. Google Sheets is another noteworthy contender. Its functioning is quite similar to Excel, making it a good alternative.

Beyond generic spreadsheet programs, you also have specialized statistical packages. These are software designed explicitly for heavy-duty statistical work. Think big data and complex calculations. They come into their own when you’re dealing with vast amounts of data or multi-faceted statistical methods.

But for a student just getting their feet wet in the world of statistics, a general-purpose spreadsheet like Excel or Google Sheets will suffice. It’s like learning to swim in a pool before heading out to the ocean.


Spreadsheets are a powerful tool in the world of statistics. They provide a flexible platform for storing and manipulating data. Whether you’re a student starting your journey in statistics or a seasoned researcher looking to analyze a massive dataset, understanding spreadsheets and their capabilities is invaluable.

Spreadsheets can store many different types of data, but, in statistics, we are mostly interested in the ability to store and manipulate numeric (quantitative) data.  One of the most useful features of spreadsheets is that they allow the user to perform calculations rapidly.  They also allow the user to perform very complex calculations involving multiple steps.  What this means for the statistics student and researcher is that spreadsheets make complicated statistical calculations as simple as specifying what columns and rows will be involved in the calculations. Spreadsheets are computer programs that store and allow the user to manipulate data.  The word data refers to a collection of quantitative (numerical) or qualitative (non-numerical) values.  What makes spreadsheets different from other types of data storage programs is that they are in tabular form.  That is, they organize the data into rows (going across) and columns (going up and down).

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Last Modified:  09/11/2023

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