The goal of this guide is to teach you how to make spreadsheets that make people and software happy. To do this you'll need to learn computers like and don't like and how to structure data in a way they understand. Learning these things isn't hard and will turn spreadsheets from a source of frustration into a powerful tool.
Spreadsheets are a file format consisting of a digital grid. Spreadsheet files were made to be electronic surrogates for the paper ledger books once used by accountants and spreadsheet software (such as Excel or Google Sheets) was built to address a specific type of data: data stored in ledgers that needed to be processed to answer questions.
However, the flexible nature of its grid format has lead to spreadsheets being used for much more than data processing. The modern spreadsheet has become a catch all tool for data storage, data entry, data visualization, print layouts, and even art.
And yet, the underlying assumption of spreadsheet software is that if you put something in a spreadsheet, you must want to process it. This is why spreadsheet programs surprise us with strange or undesired behavior such as:
In summary: spreadsheet software was made for a specific purpose and assumes your data is of a certain type and organized in a specific way. If your data does not fit the purpose or organization the software expects then you are more likely to run into problems and frustrations with your spreadsheets. The next part of this guide will introduce you to Tidy Data - a data standard for spreadsheets that is people and software friendly.
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