In this tutorial, we will tackle the basic and most useful string functions journalists use when performing a variety of tasks such as cleaning data, separating or combining the contents in columns, or preparing your data for grouping and summarizing in a pivot table, a skill that we will learn in the next tutorial. These skills will take you to a new level, far beyond the filtering and sorting that we’ve learned thus far.
Though we’re focusing on the newest version of Excel, most of what is covered applies to the other types of spreadsheets discussed in chapter four.
What gives spreadsheets like Excel their real power is the ability to employ built-in functions used in formulas to perform a number of tasks. Just like a formula, a function begins with an equal “=” sign, then the function name such as SUM, then an open parenthesis, followed a list of arguments to be included in the calculation, and finally a closed parenthesis.
Hence, the function that adds values in a specified cell range looks like this: “=SUM(A1:A7).
Functions use what are calls arguments, located in the brackets. A spreadsheet needs the information supplied by the argument in order to calculate the values in a range of cells, add values contained in separate cell ranges.
In this instance, the argument is the cell range A1:A7. Functions can use any number of arguments, which are separated by commas or colons.
Example: SUM(A1:A7,A8:A20)
Translation: sum the values in contained in cells A1 to A7, and then sum the values in cells A8 to A20.
Excel 2016 contains more than 300 functions. Fortunately, journalists typically only use about a dozen or so, which we will discuss in this tutorial. To obtain a list of functions in Excel, you can click on the function icon, highlighted in the screen grab below.
As you can see in the illustration, clicking the function icon produces a dialogue box with a list of the functions. Selecting a specific function, produces a second dialogue box with more information.
In chapter four, we learned about some of the easiest and commonly used functions: mathematical and trigonometric calculations such as SUM and AVERAGE; WEEKDAY, MONTH and YEAR functions when working with dates; and LEFT, RIGHT, and MID for working with text.
We also covered the use of logical comparisons with the IF statement, a powerful analytical tool.
This tutorial is the most comprehensive of the ones that accompany chapter four, in large part because a solid knowledge of functions, formulas and their component parts are just that important. Also available is an Excel workbook that contains the worksheets with the datasets discussed in the various tasks.
Before getting started, you’ll need to download the Excel workbook, The Data Journalist – Gettingthe Story, that accompanies this tutorial.
What you will learn:
1. Learning formula elements such as operators.
2. Learning Excel-supported operators used in formulas.
3. Learning reference operators.
4. Learning operator precedence.
5. Learning operator precedence in Excel formulas.
6. Putting operators to work.
7. The use of parentheses and nested parenthesis.
8. Functions used in formulas.
9. Learning basic functions commonly used by journalists.
10. Manipulating text: Using the ampersand operator to combine the contents of two or more cells; using the LEFT, RIGHT, MID, FIND, SEARCH, LEN and CLEAN, functions to extract characters from a string.
11. The use of the “text-to-column” feature to extract contents from cells.
12. Logical category functions using the IF statement.
Task 1: Learning formula elements such as operators.
*** For tasks one through five, please refer to the “Operators” worksheet.****
• Operators: They include symbols such as “+” (for addition), “*” (for multiplication), “–“ (for subtraction) and “/” (for division)
• Cell references: They include named cells and cell ranges. The cells can be in the current worksheet, cells in another worksheet in the same workbook, or even cells in a worksheet in another workbook.
• Values or strings: These include numbers such as 49, or text such as ‘data journalism’.
• Worksheet functions and their arguments: These include functions such as SUM or AVERAGE and their arguments, and are also known as a condition or criterion.
• Parenthesis: These control the order in which expressions within a formula are evaluated. ^{i}
Task 2: Learning Excel-supported operators used in formulas
+ Addition
- Subtraction
/ Division
* Multiplication
% Per cent (this isn’t really an operator, but functions like one in Excel. Entering a per
cent sign after a number divides the number by 100 and formats the cell as a per cent)
^ | Exponentiation |
& | Text concatenation |
= | Logical comparison (equal to) |
> | Logical comparison (greater than) |
< | Logical comparison (less than) |
>= | Logical comparison (greater than or equal to) |
<= | Logical comparison (less than or equal to) |
<> | Logical comparison (not equal to)^{ii} |
Excel supports another class of operators known as reference operators, seen below. They work in conjunction with cell references.
Symbol | Operator |
: (colon) | Range. Produces one reference to all the cells in between two references. |
, (comma) | Union. Combines multiple cell or range references into one reference. |
(single space) | Intersection. Produces one reference to cells common to two references.^{iii} |
This precedence is the set of rules that Excel uses to perform its calculations. It’s normal practice to use parenthesis in your formulas to control the order in which the calculations occur; this will be covered in the next section. That being said, it’s useful to know how precedence works.
The operations are performed in the order outlined in the accompanying table. For instance, you multiply before subtracting. So if the formula is <=A1-A2*A3=>, Excel would multiply A2 by A3 before subtracting the result from A1. The accuracy of the answer depends on what we want to do. If, for instance, you want to subtract A2 from A1 before performing the multiplication, then our answer would be incorrect. The table shows that exponentiation has the highest precedence— meaning it’s performed first—and logical comparisons have the lowest precedence—which means they’re performed last.
SymbolOperatorPrecedence
: Reference operator 1
, Reference operator 1
( ) space Reference operator 1
^ Exponentiation 1
* Multiplication 2
/ Division 2
+ Addition 3
- Subtraction 3
& Concatenation 4
= Equal to 5
< Less than 5
> Greater than 5
Task 6: Putting operators to work
Column A contains the values. The content in the cells B2:G2 is the result of the operation that was performed. For instance, clicking on B2 shows you the calculation that was performed in the formula bar.
Sample Formulas that Use Operators
The following formula adds to cell references:
“=A2+A3”
Activate B2 to locate the result in the formula bar.
The next formula divides two cell references:
=A2/A3
Concatenation, covered on pages 67-68 in chapter 4, is the operator that simply combines the contents of A2 with the contents of A3. Concatenation is usually used with text, but it can also be employed for values, as in this example. </p>
=A2&A3
The logical comparison operator, covered on pages 73-74 in chapter 4, returns true if the value in cell A2 is less than the value in cell A3, Otherwise, it returns FALSE. These operators also work with text:
=A2<A3
Task 7: The use of parentheses and nested parenthesis.
***Still staying with the same worksheet.***
You can use parentheses to override Excel’s built-in order of precedence described above. Formulas and expressions are always evaluated first
FORMULA: = (A2-A3)*A4
Excel performs the calculation within the parenthesis first, and then multiplies the result by A4.
Without the parenthesis, Excel would multiply A3 by A4 before subtracting – not the result you want. This is why you should use parenthesis, even then they’re unnecessary. Doing so helps to clarify what the formula is intended to do. In short, parentheses override Excel’s built-in order of precedence.
You can also use nested parenthesis within formulas. In other words, put them inside other parenthesis. Excel performs the calculations in the most deeply nested parenthesis first (highlighted in yellow), and then works its way out.
FORMULA: = ((A2+ A3) + (A4+ A5) + (A6 +A7)) * A6
This formula contains three sets of nested parentheses that are in turn nested inside the brackets highlighted in red in the screen grab below. Excel evaluates each nested set of parentheses, and then sums the three results which become the new value inside the brackets highlighted in yellow. Finally, Excel multiplies that value by A6 to produce the result.
It’s important to note that every left bracket (highlighted in the red square) must have a matching right bracket (highlighted in the red square). This formula would not work if the second red bracket was missing. The matching brackets are important because you can have many levels of nested parentheses—and Excel must assign an order of preference to each set. Dealing with nested parenthesis takes some getting used to, but don’t worry if you make mistakes. If the parentheses don’t match, Excel won’t let you enter the formula. Instead, Excel will suggest a correction to the formula, which is usually accurate.
Task 8: Functions used in formulas.
**Please refer to the “Functions” worksheet**
A worksheet ‘function’ is a built-in tool used in a formula.
As mentioned previously, a typical function such as SUM or AVERAGE takes one or more arguments,and then returns the result. The SUM function accepts a cell-range (A1:A7) argument, and then returns the sum of the values in that range in B2. Functions are useful because they help to: simplify your formulas; permit formulas to perform calculations that are otherwise impossible; speed up editing tasks; and allow conditional execution of formulas. ^{iv}
For instance, to calculate the average of the values of six cells, you would require the following formula: <=(A2+A3+A4+A5+A6+A7)/6>
It is unwieldly, and you would need to edit this formula if you added another cell to the range. This is why it’s preferable to replace this formula with “= AVERAGE (A2:A7)” that uses one of Excel’s built-in worksheet functions.
Excel 2016 includes more than 300 functions with the option of buying additional specialized functions from third-party suppliers. However, as we mentioned earlier, journalists may only need a dozen or so to perform basic calculations and clean up text. Once you increase your familiarity and confidence, you’ll use a greater variety of functions to perform more complicated tasks. The following are some of the most commonly used functions:
Task 9: Learning basic functions commonly used by journalists.
****Please refer to the “Function_List” worksheet for more details about functions****
**** For this task, we’ll use SUMIF(S) worksheet, which contains the salaries of employees of Hydro One Limited, the company that owns and operates the transmission lines that carry electricity to the province’s customers.
This category contains a wide variety of functions that perform mathematical and trigonometric calculations. ^{v}
SUM Adds the values in the cells.
SUMIF Adds the cells specified in a given criterion. SUMIFS Adds the cells specified by criteria.^{vi}
As we have already seen, SUM is straightforward function using one argument that simply adds the values in a chosen range of cells, as in the following formula in E21: <=SUM(E1:E19)>.
But what if you wanted to place conditions on your calculation, limiting it to employees who earn more than $1 million? Or what if you only wanted to add the salaries of those employees with “Vice President” in their job title? This is where the SUMIF comes in handy.
Cell E22 uses the SUMIF <=SUMIF(E1:E19, ">1000000") to produce the calculation on the three highest salaries. You’ll notice that unlike SUM, SUMIF in this instance needs two arguments separated by a comma: the first argument is the cell range (E1:E19), which defines the cells to be added; the second argument specifies that you only want those with values greater than $1-million (“>1000000”).
In SUMIF, the RANGE argument is the range of cells that will be used to set the criteria for the calculation, in the case the salaries in column E.
What if you wanted to perform a calculation based on a criterion contained in a separate column from the one containing the values? Well, the SUMIF function will require a third argument. Here’s how it works.
Say we want to limit the calculation to those salaries earned by everyone with ‘Vice President’ in his or her title. The syntax would look like this: <SUMIF(range, criteria, range to average)>.
Specifically, the formula looks like this: <=SUMIF(D1:D19, "*Vice president*",E1:E19)>. The first argument defines the range of cells that will be used to define the criterion, “Vice President”; the second argument is the actual criterion (“Vice President”). The third argument defines the cell range ((E1:E19) that contains the salaries Excel will add up.
Finally, you’ll notice that the term “Vice President” has an asterisk (*), or wild card, at either end.
This is because no one is called “Vice President”. Rather, job titles simply contain the term “Vice President”. You’ll find the result in E23 and the function in the formula bar.
In this case an asterisk with the expression “Vice President” gives us all the employees who have “Vice President” in their job title. The criterion with a wild card on either side is placed between quotation marks. If you omit the quotation marks, Excel will not let you perform the calculation.
What if you wanted to add a number of conditions? For instance, two conditions: the person must have ‘Vice President’ in her title; and she must earn less than $1 million per year. Excel allows you to do this with the SUMIFS function. It’s used to calculate a conditional sum using multiple criteria (“*Vice President*” and ‘<1000000’) ^{vii}
SUMIFS is comprised of arguments reflected in the following syntax: (sum_range, criteria_range1, criteria1, [criteria_range2, criteria2], . . .) ^{viii}
Complicated? Not really. So let’s break it down.
The first argument, ‘sum_range’, is the range that contains the salaries; the values you want to count. The second argument, ‘Criteria_range1’, returns the range of cells that will meet your first criterion, “*Vice President*”; the third argument, ‘ciriteria1’, contains the actual criterion, “*Vice President*”. The fourth argument, ‘criteria_range2’, contains the range of cells that will meet your second criterion of ‘>1000000’. Finally, that criterion, ‘<1000000’, is contained in ‘criteria2’, the last argument. You’ll find the result in E24.
Functions in this category perform statistical analysis on a range of data. For instance, you can calculate the average salary, or count the number of vice presidents of a particular government agency who earned more than $1,000,000 a year. This is one of the most useful functions for journalists, especially those working with tables containing many numbers. First, let’s take a look at the ones journalists typically use.
AVERAGE | Returns the average of the cells in a range |
AVERAGEIF | Returns the average of the cells specified by a criterion |
AVERAGEIFS | Returns the average for cells specified by multiple criteria |
COUNT | Counts the number of cells |
valign="top"> COUNT BLANK | Counts the number of blank cells |
COUNTIF | Counts the number of cells that meet a criterion |
COUNTIFS | Counts the number of cells that meet multiple criteria |
MAX | Returns the highest number in a range of cells |
MEDIAN | Returns the median of the given numbers |
MIN | Returns the minimum value in a list of arguments |
MODE | Returns the most common number |
RANK | Returns the rank of a number in a list of numbers ^{ix} |
The use of AVERAGE, AVERAGEIF, and AVERAGEIFS is similar to the SUM functions discussed above. You can find the results in E25, E26, and E27 of the “SUMIF(S) worksheet .
The syntax for COUNT is straightforward: =COUNT(cell range). Just like SUM and AVERAGE, the argument defines the range that contains the values you want to count. AS in SUMIF and AVERAGEIF, COUNTIF contains a second argument.
If you wanted to count the number of job titles with the term “*Vice President*”, your ‘cell range’ would be the one that contains the job titles; the second argument would be the criterion, the actual job title. Unlike SUM and AVERAGE, a COUNT can also be performed on a cell range that contains text. Please see E29.
If we wanted to place a criterion on the cell range that contains salaries, that would be fine, too. For instance, we could limit our count to the cells that contained earnings of less than $1,000,000. Please see result in E30.
***Please use the “Dates” worksheet for this task.***
The functions in this category will allow you to analyze and work with date and time values in formulas. For instance, the YEAR strips out the day and month, just leaving the year. This comes in handy when you want to determine how something behaves from year to year, allowing you to tell stories about an event that’s increasing or decreasing. There are a variety of functions that allow you to work with dates in many different ways.
Function | What It Does |
DATE | Returns the serial number of a particular date. |
DAY | Converts a serial number to a day of the month. |
DAYS360 | Calculates the number of days between two dates, based on a 360-day year. |
HOUR | Converts a serial number to an hour. |
MINUTE | Converts a serial number to a minute. |
MONTH | Converts a serial number to a month. |
NETWORKDAYS Returns the number of whole workdays between two dates.
TODAY Returns the serial number of today’s value.
WEEKDAY Converts a serial number to a day of the week.
YEAR Converts a serial number to a year. ^{x}
To get an idea of how some of these functions work, we’ll use the Manufacturer and User Facility
Device Experience Database (MAUDE). The US Food and Drug Administration uses MAUDE to
track medical devices that injure and kill people. This is a useful dataset for journalists, because most medical device manufacturers are based in the United States, where adverse events are likely to show up first.
Column B contains the exact dates the manufacturer received the complaint. If we wanted to pull the year out of that date, we would use the YEAR function, the result of which is in column C.
Clicking on cell C2 shows us the formula.
As is the case with some of the functions we’ve seen so far, the syntax is fairly straightforward:
<=YEAR(CELL REFERENCE)>. Pulling the year out of the date comes in handy when we want to group events by year in a pivot table, for instance, or a chart that we want to upload to our blog post.
We can use the same syntax to extract the month and day. In each instance, we have to be sure to format the number as either “general” or a “number” (without a decimal place) before copying the formula down the rest of the column.
As we saw in chapter four, another useful thing we can do with dates is calculate the number of days between each date by simply subtracting the most recent date from the one before it. For instance, calculating the difference allows us to calculate that time that elapsed before a company took to pay back a government loan, the length of time it took to build a critical piece of infrastructure like a road, or in the case of the MAUDE dataset, the length of time that elapsed between the date the manufacturer received news about its problematic medical device and when the event was recorded by the Food and Drug Administration. Lengthy time lapses can be newsworthy, particularly if people died.
The difference between the date the manufacturer received the information, column B, and the date the Food and Drug Administration received the report, column D, is contained in E2.
As you can see in the formula bar, we have simply subtracted one date from the next.
The functions in this category allow you to determine the type of data stored within a cell. For instance, the ISTEXT function listed below returns TRUE if a cell reference contains text. Or you can use the ISBLANK function to figure out whether a cell is empty. ^{xi}
ISBLANK | Returns TRUE is the value is blank. |
ISERROR | Returns TRUE if the value is any error value. |
ISTEXT | Returns TRUE if the value is text. |
NA | Returns the error value #N/A.^{xii} |
****Please refer to the worksheet called “Clean_2” for this example.
The text functions allow you to manipulate text strings in formulas. For instance, the MID function extracts characters beginning at a character position. Other functions allow you to change the case of text (convert to uppercase, for instance.)^{xiii} Journalists also find text functions useful for tasks such as splitting names and addresses, or pulling certain numbers out of strings of text—tasks that we’ll explore later.
CLEAN Removes all non-printable characters from text
MID Returns a specific number of characters from a text string, beginning with the number you specify
PROPER Capitalizes the first letter in each word of a text value
REPLACE Replaces characters within a text
RIGHT Returns the right-most characters from a text value
TEXT Formats a number and converts it to text
TRIM Removes excess spaces from text
VALUE Converts a text argument to a number ^{xiv}
Dealing with numbers and text can be especially tricky when importing, or downloading datasets from the Internet. At times, columns may have what are known as strange (frequently called unprintable) characters, or spaces before or after a string of text, or a series of numbers.
For instance, leading or trailing spaces are problematic because Excel treats them as characters. If the first character in a date is a space, Excel will treat the entire date as a text, which makes it impossible to sort, filter or perform counts before dates that we learned in task eleven. Removing the space, allows Excel to treat the value is a true date.
The TRIM function removes all the leading and trailing spaces, and even replaces multiple spaces between characters by a single space. ^{xv}
For instance, when downloading Quebec political donation data, the names in the first column contain leading spaces.
To get rid of the leading spaces, we would again use the trim function.
Now copy the formula for the entire column.
Extra spaces cause havoc with names. If, for instance, you have identical names, but one contains a leading space, Excel will think they are different names and treat them separately. This becomes a problem when we wanted to count the political donations of individuals. Because Excel thinks they are two different people, it would provide separate totals for each name, when in fact they are the same person. Getting rid of spaces is a large part of the kind of cleaning that we will learn in the appendix that tackles cleaning data.
When you enter a function, Excel converts the function’s name to uppercase. Therefore, it is wise to use lowercase when typing functions. If Excel doesn’t convert your text to uppercase when you press enter, your entry isn’t recognized as a function—which means that you spelled it incorrectly or the function isn’t available. For instance, it may be defined in an add-in not currently installed. ^{xvi}
Task 10: Manipulating Text
***Please refer to worksheet “Joining_Cells” for this example.
Although Excel’s claim to fame is working with numbers, it is also adept at manipulating text.
Joining two or more cells: Excel uses the ampersand (&) as its concatenation operator.
Concatenation is a fancy term that describes what happens when you combine the contents of two or more cells. For instance, A2 contains a person’s last name, SMITH; A3 contains the first name, HARRY. See the formula below.
Result: SmithHarry
The result is not exactly desirable. There is no space between the first and last names, making it too difficult to read. Hence, we must introduce a space, using the following syntax.
Result: Smith Harry
The result is a little better because in this formula, we added a space, which is contained between the two quotation marks. But theres still one more thing to do. To make it even easier to read, we should add a comma in addition to the space, as in the following example.
Result: Smith, Harry
***Please refer to worksheet “Extracting_Text” for this part of the task.***
Here, we are trying to do the opposite of joining cells. That is, we’re extracting characters from a string. Let’s stay with the example of SMITH, HARRY.
LEFT returns a specified number of characters from the beginning of the string.
There are two arguments within the brackets as you can see in the screen grab above: the first being A2, the ‘text’ in the cell address; the second argument instructs Excel to return 5, the number of characters in smith.^{xvii}
Syntax: =LEFT(A2,5)
RIGHT returns a specified number of characters from the end of the string, in this case the person’s first name, Harry. As in the case of the LEFT function, there are two arguments within the brackets: text and number of characters, in this case five.
Syntax: =RIGHT(A1,5)
MID returns a specific number of characters from a text string, starting at the position you specify, based on the number of characters you specify.^{xviii} Let’s say that our name field listed the person’s middle initial. So instead of <Smith, Harry>, it is <Smith, Harry C.>. In this case, we would use the MID function extract Harry, which is situated in the middle of the text string.
Because this is slightly different from the LEFT and RIGHT, let’s explain how the example works. The MID function that you can see in the screen grab above, uses A3, the first argument to identify the entire text string; the second argument, the number 8, identifies where the name HARRY is positioned within the text string, which in this case 8 characters counted from left to right; the third argument, the number 5, counts the number of characters in the name that need to be extracted.^{xix}
Generic Syntax: MID(text, start_num, num_chars)
Example: =MID(A3,8,5)
Result: <Harry>
RIGHT, LEFT and MID are fine when working with cells that contain a set and predictable number of characters such as dates that a particular inspection or accident occurred, or identification numbers of an adverse drug reaction. But frequently, we work with text containing words that vary in length. Hence, it’s important to learn a few more functions that can be used in combination with RIGHT and LEFT.
FIND locates a substring and returns its starting position, counting from right to left. The function takes two arguments (character to be located, and the cell address). You use this formula for casesensitive text comparisons. It does not support wildcard comparisons. Using the same example, we will locate the substring, or number of characters to the left of the letter <H> in Harry.
Syntax: FIND(“H”, A2)
Because this formula is used for case-sensitive text comparisons, we must specify that the <H> be uppercase. If you wanted to locate the first <H>, irrespective of whether it was upper or lower case, you would use the SEARCH function.
SEARCH returns a substring and its starting position, counting from left to right. You can also specify the character position at which to begin the search. Use this function of non-case sensitive text, or when you need to use wildcard characters.
Syntax: =SEARCH(“h”, A2)
In this example, the function locates the first ‘h’, which happens to be the last character in the family name, Smith, and not the capital H in Harry. This function is useful when you don’t want to bother with specifying whether a character is upper or lower case. It’s also useful, when you want to use wild cards.
As you can see in the screen grab above, we want to locate the substring that ends on a threecharacter combination < space, character and period>, which in the case of <Smith, Harry C.> would be <, C.>
Syntax: =SEARCH(“?.”,A3)
Notice in the example that we use a question mark to represent the character <c>. You can also use an asterisk (*) for a sequence of characters that comprise parts of a word. ^{xx}
As you can see above, you can now use the LEFT and FIND in combination to slice off the family name of <Smith, Harry>.
The formula would look like this:
Syntax: LEFT(A1,FIND(“,”,A2)-1)
To get a sense of what we’ve just done, let’s pull apart the formula.
LEFT instructs Excel that we are going to extract the name to the left of the string, in this case the last name. Because the last names in any database vary in length, FIND tells Excel to go to the comma in each name, and count the number of characters to the left. That gives us our variable character length for names such as Smith, McArthur, etc. But because the character length includes the comma, we must subtract that character; hence, the <-1> in the FIND function. FIND, then gives us a variable character length that makes up the second argument in our LEFT function.
As we can see in the screen grab above, the same rationale applies for extracting the first name: the RIGHT function is used with FIND as in the following example:
Syntax:=RIGHT(A2,FIND(“ “,A2)-2)
Let’s pull this one apart. RIGHT instructs Excel to extract the substring to the right, Harry. FIND locates the starting position of ‘H’, which in this case is right after the space represented by the space between the two quotation marks. Finally, we must subtract 2, which moves over two characters to the right to begin the count at the first letter in the name—in this case the ‘H’ in Harry.
There are many times when the names we receive in a database of campaign contributions or salary disclosures contain many parts: a first name, a middle initial, and a last name last; a double last name and a first name, and so on. In these instances, it is not enough to use the RIGHT and LEFT in conjunction with FIND and SEARCH. We must add a third function which we seen above: LEN. The LEN function produces the number of characters in the cell.
Syntax: =LEN(A2)
RIGHT, LEN, and FIND are used in combination to extract the person’s first name in a text string that contains first, middle, and last names such as “Smith, Harry C” in A3. The formula looks like this:
Example: =RIGHT(A3,LEN(A3)-FIND(“,”,A3)-1)
Looks complicated, but once we pull it apart, it’s easier to understand.
RIGHT instructs Excel to extract the person’s first name. For the second argument in the RIGHT function, we must use LEN and FIND to determine the variable character length. LEN gives us the number of characters in the text string. From that we subtract a sub-string, which is all the characters to the left of the comma; finally, we subtract the number 1 to exclude that comma from the sub-string. LEN and FIND, thus, give us a variable character length that becomes the second argument in the RIGHT function.
For a more complete look at how to use these functions, please see the worksheet “Clean_3”.
Task 11: The use of the “text-to-column” feature to extract contents from cells.
***Please refer to the “Text_To_Columns” worksheet for this task***
As we learned in chapter 4, Excel uses the ‘Text to Columns’ feature to pull apart, or parse the names into their component parts. Up until this point, we have described formula-based solutions, which have the advantage of allowing you to update columns without having to re-type.
In the federal political donations example above, we have the candidate names in column B. It’s important to look for patterns in data before deciding your next move. In this case, the comma separates the first and last names in every entry. There are no middle names or initials to worry about. Because it separates the first and last names in the column, the comma is the separator. You can find this command in the data tab.
Because you’ll be extracting the first name, we must create an extra column to the right of column B, which we will name once we’ve populated with the first names we will extract.
Select column B and click the “Text to Column” command to produce a “Convert Text to Columns Wizard” dialogue box.
The wizard is comprised of a number of dialogue boxes that take you through the steps to convert a single column into two columns. The wizard defaults to the “Delimited” option, which in this case is a comma. Select the “Next” tab.
Excel defaults to a “Tab” delimiter. We want a comma. So check the box to the left of comma.
(NOTE: it doesn’t matter if de-select the tab delimiter.)
Select the “Next” tab.
In this final step, Excel defaults to a general format. However, you can select different options, depending on the nature of your data. In this case let’s stick with “General” and select the “Finish” tab.
Name column C “First Name”, and rename column B, “Last Name”.
You’ll notice that column C has retained the space before each first name. We can create a new column, and then use the TRIM function that we learned earlier on to eliminate the leading space. (NOTE: to make the column as clean as possible, we could then use the paste-special option we learned in an earlier tutorial to get rid of the TRIM formula and just retain the actual names.)
The “text-to-column” command also comes in handy when downloading csv files where the institution have placed all the data in one column, which is commonly done so that the files take up as little room as possible. Let’s take a closer look at the Quebec political donation data in the “Clean_2” worksheet.
Column B now contains a cleaned-up version of the first name thanks to the TRIM function.
However, there’s a problem with the rest of the data in column C.
We can see the result in the formula bar. The rest of the columns – Given name; Total amount; Number of payments; Political entity; Fiscal year – are all squished into one column. Institutions typically do this with the csv files they upload to open data sites in order to save space, especially with large files with hundreds of thousands of records. Using the Text-to-Column command, allows us to split the information into its component parts.
Because there is no data to the right of column D, there is no need to create new columns. We can simply highlight column D to obtain the wizard we used in the previous step.
As we can see in the preview box, the delimiter is a semi-colon. We’ll have to select this option in step two.
Complete the remaining steps to obtain the final result.
Task 12: Logical category functions using the IF statement
****Please refer to the LogicalIFFuncion” worksheet.****
As we learned in chapter 4, this category consists of only seven functions (the common one used by journalists, IF, is listed below) that enable you to test a condition (for logical TRUE or FALSE). IF specifies a logical test to perform.^{xxi} You will find this function useful because it gives your formulas simple decision-making capability. ^{xxii}
We have already explored other logical categories using the IF statement. In this task, we’ll use it to reach conclusions about political donations to political parties in 2013 and 2014.
Column D contains the most straightforward manifestation which uses the greater than logical comparison operator “>”, in this case to compare donations in 2013 and 2014 with a formula that contains the syntax: <IF(logical_test, value_if_true, [value_if_false])>
If the 2014 donation is greater Excel returns a condition of either true or false.
To perform more a complicated task that we can see in column E, we use the IF statement. Now we’ve attached conditions to the formula, which you can see in the formula bar above. Translated, it means If the value in C2 if greater than the value in B2, then, as a condition, assign the number one. If the amount is smaller, then assign the number two. Doing this, could allow us to filter the dataset for parties that raised more money in 2014, or use the COUNTIF, or SUMIF functions we learned earlier to determine the number of parties that met a certain criterion.
We can also replace the numbers with statements contained within brackets as we see in column F. So if the amount raised in 2014 exceeds the value in 2013, then assign it the phrase “Increased their donations”. If the amount is inferior, then it’s “Received less money”.
In some cases, you may need to use an IF statement that combines the “AND” and “OR” criteria. In the case of the former, two conditions have to be met in order to deliver a result. In the later, one condition or the other must be met in order to achieve the result.
We can see the result in column G. Translated into English, this means if the amount in 2014 is greater than 2013, and is less than $1,000,00, then classify it as a “small donation gain”. If it fails to meet this criterion, then classify it as “Other”. Using this formula, we might want to weed out the larger donations, and just focus on the instances where smaller donations increased.
We can achieve similar results using OR.
Though we have covered a lot of ground in this tutorial, we have only scratched the surface. Hard to believe, isn’t it? To learn more, there are numerous online tutorials, books such as the one quoted in these end notes, and, of course, listservs such as NICAR. Excel also has an excellent help menu. Mastering the tasks outlined in this tutorial will help take your Excel skills to a new and powerful level, and lead to better and more memorable stories.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 34. 1
John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 39. 1
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 99-100. 1
John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 112. 1
John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 794. 1
John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 180,250 1
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 216.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 34.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 39.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 40.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 99-100.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 112.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 794.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 180,250
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Excel Help using search term “SUMIFS” found in the “Math and Trigonometry” section
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 794-796.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 787.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 112.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 791.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 112.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 797.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 214
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 107.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 216.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Bible (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 791.
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John Walkenbach, Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Formulas (Wiley Publishing Inc., 2007), 112.