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The Four Ways to Talk to SPSS

More than one way exists for you to command the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) to do your bidding. And you don't have to choose one and stick with it — you can perform tasks using whichever of the four interfaces you prefer. You can use any of the four approaches to perform any of the SPSS functions, but which one is best for you depends, to an extent, on the task to be performed and which interface you prefer:

  • GUI (graphical user interface): SPSS has a window interface, and commands can be issued by the mouse through menu selections that cause dialog boxes to appear. This is a fill-in-the-blanks approach to statistical analysis that guides you through the process of making choices and selecting values.
    The advantage of the GUI approach is that, at each step, SPSS will make sure that you enter everything necessary before proceeding to the next step. This is the preferred interface for those just starting out — and if you don't do much with SPSS, this may be the only interface you ever use.
  • Syntax: This is the internal language used to command actions from SPSS. You can write Syntax commands to directly command SPSS to do anything it is capable of doing. In fact, when you use menu and dialog box selections to command SPSS, you are actually generating Syntax commands that do your bidding internally. That is, the GUI is nothing more than the front end of a Syntax command–writing utility. Writing (and saving) command language programs is a good way to store processes that you expect to repeat. You can even grab a copy of the Syntax commands generated by the GUI and save them to be repeated later.
  • Python: This is a general-purpose language that has a collection of SPSS modules written for it, making it possible to write programs that work inside SPSS. It can be run with the Syntax language to command SPSS to perform statistical functions. One advantage of using Python is the fact that it is a modern language and gives you the power and convenience that come with languages today, including the ability to construct a more readable program. In addition, because it's a general-purpose language, you can read and write data from other applications and from other files.
  • Scripts: The items that SPSS calls scripts are actually programs written in BASIC. This language is simple and many people are familiar with it. Also, a BASIC program can be written as an autoscript — a script that executes automatically when SPSS produces certain output.
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