Home > Data Analysis > Importing data into SPSS Statistics (part 1)

Importing data into SPSS Statistics (part 1)

SPSS logoThere are many ways to bring your data into IBM SPSS Statistics, for whatever manner of analysis or reorganisation you wish to perform. Here are a few approaches to consider, with some of their relative merits and shortcomings. This post is split over three parts.

Before you proceed, you should be at least slightly familiar with the main window in SPSS Statistics, the Data Editor. Specifically, there are two views as identified by the orange tab at the bottom-left of the screen: Data View and Variable View. The former has the variables in columns with observations/readings in rows; the latter has the variables in rows with their meta-data in columns.

SPSS Data Editor showing labels SPSS Data Editor tabs  SPSS Data Editor with Variables View

Best-case scenario: Open an existing data source in SPSS Statistics format

You might be fortunate enough to already have data in the native format to SPSS Statistics (*.sav). This is the format to choose when saving your data while working in SPSS.

Each variable has a Name, and that name cannot contain spaces, punctuation (except dots or underscores) and cannot begin with a number. In older versions of SPSS, variable names could only be 8 characters long. It is good practice to use more explanatory Labels with your variables as well as short-hand Names. This will help you if you come back to your data in the future and cannot remember it as well as you thought (it happens to everyone!) or if you pass on your data to somebody else.

Approach 1: Type in data, or copy and paste

You may create a new, blank document and save it in SPSS Statistics default format. Set up your variables carefully, including the variable type (e.g. Number) and number of decimal places, before you type any data in. This is especially important if you choose to copy and paste your data in from another source such as a spreadsheet, or you risk your data being rounded down to integers.

SPSS Data Editor showing valuesRemember to use a numerical variable type wherever possible, even if your data appears to be in labelled categories such as Yes/No or UK/Europe/World. SPSS works best with numbers, so record your categories as integers (e.g. 0/1 for No/Yes) then assign value labels once it is in SPSS (that’s the Values column in the Variable View).

To toggle the display of the data category labels and the numbers behind them, go to View -> Value Labels when in the Data View tab.

This post continues with Part 2.


IBM SPSS Statistics version 20 was used in this blog post, but the methods should apply to older and newer versions too. The data in the screenshots come from a British Crime Survey, 2010, and were prepared by The Cathy Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research.

Categories: Data Analysis Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s