Introduction - Excel Data Analysis For Dummies, 2nd Edition (2014)

Excel Data Analysis For Dummies, 2nd Edition (2014)


So here’s a funny deal: You know how to use Excel. You know how to create simple workbooks and how to print stuff. And you can even, with just a little bit of fiddling, create cool-looking charts.

But I bet that you sometimes wish that you could do more with Excel. You sometimes wish, I wager, that you could use Excel to really gain insights into the information, the data, that you work with in your job.

Using Excel for data analysis is what this book is all about. This book assumes that you want to use Excel to learn new stuff, discover new secrets, and gain new insights into the information that you’re already working with in Excel — or the information stored electronically in some other format, such as in your accounting system or from your web server’s analytics.

About This Book

This book isn’t meant to be read cover to cover like a Dan Brown page-turner. Rather, it’s organized into tiny, no-sweat descriptions of how to do the things that must be done. Hop around and read the chapters that interest you.

If you’re the sort of person who, perhaps because of a compulsive bent, needs to read a book cover to cover, that’s fine. I recommend that you delve in to the chapters on inferential statistics, however, only if you’ve taken at least a couple of college-level statistics classes. But that caveat aside, feel free. After all, maybe Dancing with the Stars is a rerun tonight.

What You Can Safely Ignore

This book provides a lot of information. That’s the nature of a how-to reference. So I want to tell you that it's pretty darn safe for you to blow off some chunks of the book.

For example, in many places throughout the book I provide step-by-step descriptions of the task. When I do so, I always start each step with a bold-faced description of what the step entails. Underneath that bold-faced step description, I provide detailed information about what happens after you perform that action. Sometimes I also offer help with the mechanics of the step, like this:

1. Press Enter.

Find the key that's labeled Enter. Extend your index finger so that it rests ever so gently on the Enter key. Then, in one sure, fluid motion, press the key by using your index finger. Then release the key.

Okay, that's kind of an extreme example. I never actually go into that much detail. My editor won’t let me. But you get the idea. If you know how to press Enter, you can just do that and not read further. If you need help — say with the finger-depression part or the finding-the-right-key part — you can read the nitty-gritty details.

You can also skip the paragraphs flagged with the Technical Stuff icon. These icons flag information that's sort of tangential, sort of esoteric, or sort of questionable in value … at least for the average reader. If you’re really interested in digging into the meat of the subject being discussed, go ahead and read ’em. If you’re really just trying to get through your work so that you can get home and watch TV with your kids, skip ’em.

I might as well also say that you don’t have to read the information provided in the paragraphs marked with a Tip icon, either. I assume that you want to know an easier way to do something. But if you like to do things the hard way because that improves your character and makes you tougher, go ahead and skip the Tip icons.

What You Shouldn’t Ignore (Unless You’re a Masochist)

By the way, don’t skip the Warning icons. They’re the text flagged with a picture of a 19th century bomb. They describe some things that you really shouldn’t do.

Out of respect for you, I don’t put stuff in these paragraphs such as, “Don’t smoke.” I figure that you’re an adult. You get to make your own lifestyle decisions.

I reserve these warnings for more urgent and immediate dangers — things that you can but shouldn’t do. For example: “Don't smoke while filling your car with gasoline.”

Foolish Assumptions

I assume just three things about you:

· You have a PC with a recent version of Microsoft Excel 2007 installed.

· You know the basics of working with your PC and Microsoft Windows.

· You know the basics of working with Excel, including how to start and stop Excel, how to save and open Excel workbooks, and how to enter text and values and formulas into worksheet cells.

How This Book Is Organized

This book is organized into five parts:

Part I: Where’s the Beef?

In Part I, I discuss how you get data into Excel workbooks so that you can begin to analyze it. This is important stuff, but fortunately most of it is pretty straightforward. If you’re new to data analysis and not all that fluent yet in working with Excel, you definitely want to begin in Part I.

Part II: PivotTables and PivotCharts

In the second part of this book, I cover what are perhaps the most powerful data analysis tools that Excel provides: its cross-tabulation capabilities using the PivotTable and PivotChart commands.

No kidding, I don’t think any Excel data analysis skill is more useful than knowing how to create pivot tables and pivot charts. If I could, I would give you some sort of guarantee that the time you spent reading how to use these tools is always worth the investment you make. Unfortunately, after consultation with my attorney, I find that this is impossible to do.

Part III: Advanced Tools

In Part III, I discuss some of the more sophisticated tools that Excel supplies for doing data analysis. Some of these tools are always available in Excel, such as the statistical functions. (I use a couple of chapters to cover these.) Some of the tools come in the form of Excel add-ins, such as the Data Analysis and the Solver add-ins.

I don’t think that these tools are going to be of interest to most readers of this book. But if you already know how to do all the basic stuff and you have some good statistical and quantitative methods, training, or experience, you ought to peruse these chapters. Some really useful whistles and bells are available to advanced users of Excel. And it would be a shame if you didn’t at least know what they are and the basic steps that you need to take to use them.

Part IV: The Part of Tens

In my mind, perhaps the most clever element that Dan Gookin, the author of the original and first For Dummies book, DOS For Dummies, came up with is the part with chapters that just list information in David Letterman-ish fashion. These chapters let us authors list useful tidbits, tips, and factoids for you.

Excel Data Analysis For Dummies, Second Edition includes three such chapters. In the first, I provide some basic facts most everybody should know about statistics and statistical analysis. In the second, I suggest ten tips for successfully and effectively analyzing data in Excel. Finally, in the third chapter, I try to make some useful suggestions about how you can visually analyze information and visually present data analysis results.

The Part of Tens chapters aren’t technical. They aren’t complicated. They’re very basic. You should be able to skim the information provided in these chapters and come away with at least a few nuggets of useful information.

The appendix contains a handy glossary of terms you should understand when working with data in general and Excel specifically. From kurtosis to histograms, these sometimes baffling terms are defined here.

Icons Used in This Book

Like other For Dummies books, this book uses icons, or little margin pictures, to flag things that don’t quite fit into the flow of the chapter discussion. Here are the icons that I use:

image Technical Stuff: This icon points out some dirty technical details that you might want to skip.

image Tip: This icon points out a shortcut to make your life easier or more fulfilling.

image Remember: This icon points out things that you should, well, remember.

image Warning: This icon is a friendly but forceful reminder not to do something … or else.

image Excel2007/2010: This icon indicates specialized instructions you should pay attention to if you’re using one of those versions of Excel.

Beyond the Book

· Cheat Sheet: This book's Cheat Sheet can be found online at See the Cheat Sheet for info on Excel database functions, Boolean expressions, and important statistical terms.

· online articles: Companion articles to this book's content can be found online at The topics range from tips on pivot tables and timelines to how to buff your Excel formula-building skills.

· Downloadable example workbooks: You can download the example workbooks I use in this book at

· Updates: If this book has any updates after printing, they will be posted to

Where to Go from Here

If you’re just getting started with Excel data analysis, flip the page and start reading the first chapter.

If you have a bit of skill with Excel or you have a special problem or question, use the Table of Contents or the index to find out where I cover a topic and then turn to that page.

Good luck! Have fun!