Data, data, data. That word is used all the time, and it is definitely a useful term to understand when trying to master spreadsheets. Generally, all data means is the information held in the spreadsheet. Information comes in multiple forms, called Data Types, and it is helpful to know the difference and how these impact your spreadsheet. We can go into a lot of technical detail in terms of data types (and this is often how coding or data courses start), but we won’t be doing that here. Instead we’re going to focus on the two main data types in spreadsheets.
The majority of data held in spreadsheets is numeric. These data points will consist of digits (0–9) and, in some cases, punctuation such as decimal points.
Integers (or whole numbers with no decimal places)
Decimals (sometimes these are called floats)
Using other punctation can create other numeric data types:
Percentages (e.g. 40.1%, 3%)
Currency (e.g. £300, $500.55)
There is also scientific and accounting data formats or types in spreadsheets, but these are quite specific and advanced so we won’t go into them in detail.
In spreadsheets, dates which are a special case. They are seen as numeric (due to the way in which they are stored). Dates are usually US format (month, day, year) unless otherwise set. The data can also have multiple formats — date, time or datetime (e.g. 13/12/2021 13:45). It is useful to learn best practices about dates and times, and how formatting can be used to get the exact format you want. [We will be covering this in a later part of the series]
The other main data type in spreadsheets is text. A very simplistic way to determine if some data is text — if it does not fit in one of the numeric categories.
Text contains letters, numbers and punctation (or a combination of these). Examples of text data can be locations, names, phrases, titles, column / row headings.
In spreadsheets, text can be there to make the data easier to read or understand; or it can actually be part of the data.
Below is an example of some data in a spreadsheet. Data types are applied to entire cells (the little rectangles), and can vary across rows and columns.
Row 1 contains the column headers, they are text.
Columns A and B also contain text data on regions and store locations.
Columns C and D, except for row 1, contain numeric data — C has transactions as integers and D has turnover as a currency.
All rows except row 1 have a mixture of text and numeric data.
A section of a spreadsheet showing two text columns (A and B), and two numeric columns (C and D)
(Technically not a data type, but worth a mention)
Formulas are not actually a data type, but it is worth mentioning there is a difference between values (typed out data) and formulas (which produce data). This difference impacts formatting, copying and pasting, and whether updating other parts of the spreadsheet impact the value showed. We will be covering this in later parts of this series, but we have some more of the basics to cover first.