Pivot tables are a powerful tool for any journalist looking for a story in a mass of data, and can be made with most spreadsheet software like Excel, Open Office or Google docs. They allow you to use filters to quickly sort and use a specific section of information using filters.

You can then use that selection to create graphs and calculate totals that change dynamically as you adjust the options, so you can spot any trends or anomalous results clearly and easily.

Here are the key points to take away:
  • Make sure all your data is contiguous (touching)
  • Ensure that every piece of information you want to filter by is the same in every instance in which it appears
  • Most database software uses different terms for their 'filter', but in essence they're all the same. A little bit of experimentation should give the results you want
  • Where possible, create a pivot table in a new workbook. Google Spreadsheets will do this automatically
  • Creating graphs and charts the usual way will produce charts that change dynamically as you tweak the filters

Have a look at the more detailed guide to building pivot tables here.

John Burn-Murdoch, a data journalist at the Financial Times, will be leading a workshop on spreadsheet skills at Journalism.co.uk's forthcoming news:rewired digital journalism conference.

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