Resources for using spreadsheets in research and moving onto other tools

Posted by j.laird on 5 November 2021 - 9:30am
Pile of papers
By Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

By Jacalyn Laird, SSI Communications Officer.

As part of the Research Software Camp: Beyond the Spreadsheet we’ve gathered some useful resources below which focus on using spreadsheets effectively in research and how to move beyond these to other tools.

Background on spreadsheets

This NPR podcast episode ‘Spreadsheets!’ discusses how the spreadsheet transformed not just finance but health, entertainment, and almost everything else.

This collection of spreadsheet horror stories gathers high-profile spreadsheet errors, highlighting common problems that can occur and how to avoid them.

This Cautionary Tales podcast episode wrong tools cost lives discusses: ‘Microsoft Excel is great for business accounts… but maybe don’t use it to track a deadly disease. The British Government promised to create a “world-beating” system to track deadly Covid 19 infections – but it included an outdated version of the off-the-shelf spreadsheet software Microsoft Excel. The result was disastrous.’

Watch this stand-up comedy routine on spreadsheets by mathematician Matt Parker.

Best practice and top tips

Take part in this online Data Horror Escape Room for a playful exercise in research data management.

The UK government has guidance on creating and sharing spreadsheets to ‘help you avoid common errors, improve interoperability and create more accessible spreadsheets.’

This chapter from the Turing Way gives tips on data organisation in spreadsheets.

This article from The American Statistician also gives recommendations for data entry and storage in spreadsheets to reduce errors and ease later analyses.

Watch this video by Mor Rubinstein on Tricks and Hacks for Google Sheets which introduces some functions that are unique to Google Sheets and discusses how they can be useful to your work.

This SSI guide explains how to generate Google Maps out of data in Google spreadsheets.

In these presentations staff from Microsoft Research discuss the programming possibilities opened up by LAMBDA in Excel - new feature that allows you to define custom functions using Excel’s formula language.

Moving onto other tools

This blog post discusses some of Excel’s limitations in data analysis and lists 9 reasons Excel users should consider learning programming.

In this blog post SSI Deputy Director Simon Hettrick discusses the difficulties he faced in reproducing analysis that was originally conducted in Excel and his journey in moving onto more reproducible tools.

This blog post compares Python vs. Excel for Data Analytics as they go head-to-head across different aspects of data analysis.

This infographic compares Python and R: Choosing Python or R for Data Analysis?

This webpage has gathered some of the best resources for getting started with R.

Here's a handy selection of resources for getting started with Python, for both beginners and more advanced users.

Keep an eye on our blog for an upcoming post on resources to help you move beyond spreadsheets.


If you know of a useful guide or article you’d like added to this list then please let us know at info@software.ac.uk. Our future Camps will cover a variety of topics relating to research software – join our mailing list for updates on upcoming Camps.


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