SPSS Help – An Introduction to Using SPSS

Need SPSS help? This article is a brief introduction to the program. SPSS, also known as PASW (Predictive Analytic Software), is a program that works with statistics. It is a popular program for those doing research, analyzing data, and working on thesis projects. Since SPSS and statistics go hand in hand, you should know about statistics.

Statistics is a set of mathematical techniques that can be used to summarize research data and determine whether or not the data supports the researcher’s hypothesis. When working with any type of research, there are specific stages each individual should expect to complete.

The first stage is planning and designing stage which will take place before launching SPSS. During this phase, you will focus on a specific area of research, develop a hypothesis, and identify a sample population to conduct your research on.

The second stage is collecting data. Field work such as making observations and handing out surveys and questionnaires are common in this stage. The data collected will be input into SPSS for interpretation.

The third stage, analyzing data, and the fourth stage, reporting, are the only stages when SPSS will be used. Analyzing data will consist of running different types of tests while reporting will include writing some type of finished paper or report.

To begin working with SPSS, first launch the program. These instructions assume you’re working with the program on a computer with a Windows operating system. Please note that individual steps may vary. To begin, click the start button in the lower left hand corner of the screen. Point the mouse to all programs. Point to SPSS Inc. then to PASW Statistics 17 (or whichever version of the program is installed on your computer). Click PASW Statistics 17 to launch the program. Once the program has launched, a PASW Statistics 17 dialog box will appear. Click the cancel button to close this window. This will place you inside a blank data file titled “Untitled1”.

For those viewing SPSS for the very first time, the program interface may be overwhelming. In actuality, it is not much more difficult to use than your average spreadsheet program. We will now review the interface so you can get a grasp on how to navigate through your files. Like all programs, the top bar comprises the title bar that displays the program running and the file name being worked on. Towards the top right of the window, are the buttons to minimize, maximize/restore, and close our program window. Directly below the title bar is the menu bar which groups the program functions into groups of common features with an inner working of submenus and options to analyze our data. Below the menu bar is the tool bar, an array of commonly used features derived from the menu bar conveniently placed in clear view for easy access and usage.

Do the rows and columns in the program window remind you of another program interface? SPSS uses rows and column in much the same way Excel does. In SPSS, by default each column is labeled “var” which is short for variable. The variables are the survey items or the questions you will ask respondents. Each row of the spreadsheet corresponds to a case. A case will contain all of the responses for each participant in your survey, questionnaire, etc.

Whereas Excel can have an unlimited number of tabs, SPSS is limited to just two: data view and variable view. These two tabs are visible in the lower left hand portion of the SPSS window. The data view tab is where users will input the raw data collected from surveys, questionnaires, observations, or other forms of collection. The variable view tab can be thought of as a management window. It is where variables are defined. In this tab, you will assign variable names, types, and choose the corresponding attributes.

The variable type will determine how cases are entered. The string type is used when responses will consist of “strings” of characters or in other words, “words”. Use the string type for recording variables such as respondents’ names. The numeric type can be used when numeric responses are anticipated. Variables such as GPA and age will often use a numeric type. Another variable type is named dollar. This type will be used with variables such as salary or cost. There are other variable types such as date and scientific notation. Assign these types when recording dates and numbers in scientific notation, respectively. In variable view, users are also able to assign a variable label. In this cell, enter a phrase explaining what the variable is for. You can also enter your survey question. A variable label is optional.

After assigning variable names, types, and labels for each of the variables in your survey or questionnaire, users can begin to input data to analyze. Remember to save your data file often by going to the file menu then clicking on save. SPSS uses its own file type called a “.sav” file. Create and store a backup copy of your file on a flash drive or external hard drive in case of emergency.

Although this article won’t go over specifics of individual tests and analyses, bear in mind that results of tests will appear in a separate sub-program section called the output window. All the results such as the tables or charts in the output window must be saved separately. If you close SPSS and do not save the results of your output window, you will have to re-create all the charts, tables, etc. So be sure to save any results in a separate “.spv” file.