Are you dipping your toe into computer-assisted reporting and data analysis? Looking to have a few simple Excel functions demystified?
We know most newsrooms these days don't offer training in this area (actually, we have worked in newsrooms where managers didn't think reporters needed access to Excel at all!). So we have put together a few video tutorials demonstrating relatively simple Excel functions which can help you wrangle spreadsheet data and find meaning in your numbers.
To start, ICIJ reporter Kate Willson takes you through Auto Fill: a simple yet powerful way to build tables. We also use them, like you see in this tutorial, to add clarifying labels to confusing or dirty data.
Secondly there is Sorting and Filtering. Sorting allows you to group similar data together, whereas filtering allows you to drill down deeper in the data. We use filter to crosscheck our data too, to make sure we have the number or rows we expect, or to identify how many black entries to consider.
Willson also demonstrates Concatenation to join data from multiple cells. This comes in handy particularly when writing lengthy SQL queries. For example, if you want to filter records by more than one criteria, typing can be repetitive. By using the "Concatenate" function in Excel, you can automate the statements. This will not only save time, but it will make it less likely that you'll introduce mistakes into the query.
Finally Willson demonstrates Pivot Tables, a powerful tool to show trends in the raw numbers. It's also nice for those who prefer to interact with data visually.
None of these tutorials will turn you into a Computer-Assisted Reporting wizard overnight, but they offer a great start to get you comfortable in Excel.
View all four training videos in How To Use Simple Excel Functions for Data Analysis, part of ICIJ's Resources library.
Want some extra resources to learn about Computer-Assisted Reporting? Try:
- Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide by Brant Houston;
- Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Comprehensive Primer by Fred Vallance-Jones;
- The Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) have a number of Excel tipsheets on their website, although you need to be a member to access these.