Use Numbers, Not Words, with SPSS Statistics

By Keith McCormick, Jesus Salcedo, Aaron Poh

SPSS works best with numbers. Whenever possible, try to have your SPSS data in the form of numbers. If you give SPSS names and descriptions, it’ll seem like they’re being processed by SPSS, but that’s because each name has been assigned a number. (Sneaky.) That’s why survey questions are written like this:

  1. How do you feel about rhubarb? Select one answer:

    A. I love it!

    B. It’s okay.

    C. I can take it or leave it.

    D. I don’t care for it.

    E. I hate it!

A number is assigned to each of the possible answers, and these numbers are fed through the statistical process. SPSS uses the numbers — not the words — so be careful about keeping all your words and numbers straight.

Keep accurate records describing your data, how you got the data, and what it means. SPSS can do all the calculations for you, but only you can decipher what it means. In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a computer the size of a planet crunched on a problem for generations and finally came out with the answer, 42. But the people tending the machine had no idea what the answer meant because they didn’t remember the question. They hadn’t kept track of their input. You must keep careful track of your data or you may later discover, for example, that what you’ve interpreted to be a simple increase is actually an increase in your rate of decrease. Oops!