Spreadsheets And Tables

by Krishna on January 10, 2011

Something that I see repeatedly is people opening an Excel file when they want to type in a table of information. They do this even if the table contains no numbers, there are no calculations required and some of the cells contains whole sentences and paragraphs. A common scenario is people using spreadsheets for tracking tasks.

One reason is that Excel and other spreadsheet programs have sophisticated table manipulation capabilities such as sorting and filtering. And because they have unlimited columns, they don’t run out of space on the right side. But frequently, people don’t need the advanced functions and they face the following problems when using a spreadsheet:

  • Not enough room in a cell to type more than a few words.
  • Each cell doesn’t have the easy editing capabilities of a word processor.
  • Formatting the table for a better printed layout is often tough.

Using tables in a word processor like Microsoft Word or Open Office is sometimes superior for text-only tables. Word even has sorting for tables if that is what you are interested in. It is easy to add differently formatted text. Tracking editing changes by multiple users is also possible.

I recently noticed a friend adding a serial number column as the first column in an Excel sheet. This is obviously redundant and can introduce errors if done manually. But this behavior illustrates that people are not used to taking advantage of Excel’s capabilities (even those highly visible) and are, on net, hindered by its disadvantages.


David January 10, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I have also seen this use of Excel as application of first resort. Last week someone sent my minutes of a meeting written in Excek, which was an especially odd choice given lack of word wrapping.
I use Word tables, but the filtering options offered by Excel can be a valid reason to use it rather than choose Word. Moreover, I wonder how many users know that Word has the table handling functions.

Michelle June 7, 2011 at 11:51 am

100% Agree. Lots of people use Excel to organize information, regardless of the technical capabilities of Excel. I suppose it's fine to use Excel to organize text information until it gets in the way of productivity (as in the examples you pointed out), and then a word processing program is a better choice, or even something graphical like Viso depending on the use case.

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