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SPSS eTutor: SPSS Overview

A Brief Guidebook for using SPSS at Empire State College

SPSS Overview

The examples and screen shots used in this guide are based on a student version the 2008 General Social Survey (GSS) data set, which contains information on 50 variables for a sample of 1500 U.S. adults.

Undergraduate students in the Survey of Social Science Research Methods and the Quantitative Research: Design and Methods courses offered by the Center for Distance Learning at Empire State College use SPSS and the GSS data for some course assignments.  Other users of this guide who wish access the GSS data for practice purposes may do so by clicking on the link on the SPSS eTutor home page.


When you open any SPSS (.sav) file, you open the Data Editor.

The Data Editor is composed of the Data View and the Variable View. Note the tabs at the bottom left of the screen once you open the Data Editor. The Data View is where you will see the “raw data” for each of your cases, or the information for each case on all the variables contained in the data set. The Variable View is where you will see information on each of the variables in the data set. The screen shot below displays the Data View for the 2008 GGSS (1500 case) data set:


Note the tabs at the bottom left of the screen when you open the Data Editor.


Variable View

Variable View contains a description of each of the variables in your data base. Let’s look at Variable View by clicking on that tab.

Your screen should now look like this:

Variable View holds ten columns of information about each variable in the database.

Name: abbreviated name of the variable

Data Type: if you click on the right hand of the box you will find a drop list of options. Most of the time you will most likely use “numeric” for your projects. If you want to add text, change this to “string”.

Width: the number of digits or characters possible for the variable. For example, if you had 15 possible responses, you would need to have a width of 2 (one for the tens’ place and another for the ones’ place).

Decimals: the number of decimal places that the variable requires

Labels: a brief description or label for your variable

Values: the values you have assigned to the labels (for example, 1=yes, 2=no, 8= K, 9=NA

Missing: values designated as missing

Columns: Width of Column in Data View refers to the number of letters in the variable name. The default is ‘8’ which should be sufficient for most of your work.

Align: alignment of data in Data View: right, left or center. The default is ‘right’.

Measure: level of measurement: Nominal, Ordinal, Scale (SPSS designates both Interval and Ratio measures as Scale). Be aware: the default is ‘Scale’ so if you have ordinal or nominal variables you will need to change these.

Data view

Now, let’s return to the data view. Click on the tab at the bottom left of the screen.

Once you click on the button that says data view, your screen should look like this:

Each row of the Data View represents a subject or case. If you have 350 subjects, you will note that you have 350 rows (identified by the record numbers on the left). Each column of the Data View represents a variable. You can identify the variables by returning to the variable view. You can also see variable information in the data view by clicking on the tool bar button with the red arro.:

Option Suggestions

In order to make it easier for you to find variables when they are in a list: Click on Edit from the menu, then Options. On the General tab, make sure that you have changed your options so that they look like this:

Now, go to the “output Labels tab in the options box. In order for you to see both the numerical values and labels in your output, make sure that your options are set this way:



The SPSS Viewer is the window that provides your output. There are two panels in the viewer:

  1. Outline panel: provides a complete listing of everything that SPSS has done in that session.
  2. Contents panel: results (charts, tables, graphs, etc) are displayed here.

You will see the SPSS viewer when you perform an analysis and have output. When you close the SPSS viewer window, SPSS reverts back to the data editor. Here is how your output looks in the SPSS Viewer:



Please note: If you need to request accommodations with content linked to on this guide or with your SPSS Software,  on the basis of a disability, please contact Accessibility Resources and Services by emailing them at  Requests for accommodations should be submitted as early as possible to allow for sufficient planning. If you have questions, please visit the disability services website


SPSS eTutor by Dee Britton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.