Top tips for using SPSS


Soon, you might be thinking about analysing your data. If you have quantitative data, you probably need to use software to help you with statistical analysis, which will be SPSS. You’re might know quite a bit about SPSS, or you might feel dread and fear in the pit of your stomach – either way, we’re here to help with some top tips on starting you analysis with SPSS!

1. Play around!
The most helpful thing about SPSS is that it is a ‘point and click’ software (other stats software like R require you to write commands out fully). This means you can explore on your own, and just have a go at working it out by playing with the buttons. You can even do this with some made-up data. A great book is Discovering Statistics Using SPSS by Andy Field, which comes with online resources and ready-to-play-with data. He also has some great videos on YouTube.

2. Be tidy!
SPSS has two tabs: data view, and variable view. When you’re importing your data (either by hand or via an online questionnaire service like Qualtrix) you should understand how these two link and make sure your data is tidy. The variable view shows information about variables e.g. names and values. Each row is a variable. You should start with creating your variables (corresponding to questions in your study). To keep it tidy, give your variables short but clear names, and make sure to explain what the variable is in the ‘Label’ column, e.g. write the original question out in full. In the data view, you would input your actual data i.e. scores from a questionnaire. Each row is a participant and every column is a variable. To keep it tidy, you should number your participants.

3. Keep a log
Once you’ve input your data and tidied it up, you should save this as an ‘untouchable’ document. Don’t use it to do any playing around or any analysis, and don’t delete any participants or variables you think you might be excluding. Save another copy with a different name and only work on that. That way, if you make any mistakes, you always have your original data. Also, keep a log of the different things you’ve done to your data – how many people you excluded, which analysis, what variable you put in what box etc. This will really help with writing up, or when you discuss your analysis with your supervisor, or when you just want to double check your work but you can’t remember what you did…!

4. Don’t forget your scales
If you’ve used a scale in your study, you’ll have made a variable for each question in that scale. But remember to make an overall variable for your scale by creating a mean score of all those questions for each participant. You can do this by clicking on ‘Transform > Compute variable’ and type in MEAN (variable1, variable2, variable etc).

5. Always start with some descriptives
Often, it’s daunting to stare at your data and have no idea what analysis you should be doing, or where even to start. It’s good, then, that there are always some descriptives you can do to get you in the mood! You can click on ‘Analyze > Descriptive stats > Descriptives’ and find the mean age of your participants, or the mean score of all participants on a variable. Or you could click on ‘Analyze  Descriptive stats > Frequencies’ and find out how many women and men you have in your study. These are good places to start and these kinds of descriptions are needed in your dissertation!

If you have questions, remember that we’re always ready to help on the Blackboard Forum!