Monday, May 25, 2009

Excel: Spreadsheets are for Numbers *And* Words

"Beyond Numbers: Manipulating Text in Excel"
PC Magazine (May 21 2009)

"Excel is great for crunching numbers, but it's also a simple database solution for many. Luckily, with a few handy formulas, Excel can learn to crunch your alpha-bits too."

"Common wisdom is that word processors are for text and spreadsheets are for numbers. The reality, however, is that while spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel let you work with numbers in every imaginable way, they're also quite adept at manipulating text. This ability comes in very handy, and Excel is often used as a lightweight database to manage a wide variety of data lists.

"Unfortunately, the text in your spreadsheets often won't be stored in a manner suitable to your needs. For example...."

This is a pretty good article for people who have Excel, could use a simple database, and don't have some combination of a large IT staff, programming skills, and unlimited time.

That first 'for example' shows how to take "a list of people's names where each name is stored as firstname lastname (for example, John Doe) in a single cell...." and turn it into something you can search and sort by last name.

There's specific advice for dealing with domain names, file names, zipcodes that start with a zero, and extra blank characters in your text.

A supervisor of mine once told me that he could do just about anything with a text editor and a spreadsheet. I didn't quite believe him at the time, but tried doing things his way, anyway. He had a point.

I've used Excel for quite a few off-label functions: including what this article describes.

This article is particularly helpful, because it shows some of the functions you'd need to use.

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