An Excel Tutorial on Analyzing Large Data Sets

Ever wanted to use Excel to examine big data sets? This tutorial will show you how to analyze over 300,000 items at one time. And what better topic than baby names? Want to see how popular your name was in 1910? You can do that. Want to find the perfect name for your baby? Here’s your chance to do it with data.

Picture: popularity of letter n skyrocketing recently

There are professional data analysts out there who tackle “big data” with complex software, but it’s possible to do a surprising amount of analysis with Microsoft Excel. In this case, we’re using baby names from California based on the United States Social Security Baby Names Database. In this tutorial, you’ll not only learn how to manipulate big data in Excel, you’ll learn some critical thinking skills to uncover some of the flaws within databases. As you’ll see, the Social Security database, which goes back to 1880, has some weird and wonderful anomalies that we’ll discuss.

This tutorial is for people familiar with Excel: those who know how to write, copy and paste formulas and make charts. If you rarely venture away from a handful of menu items, you’ll learn how to use built-in Excel features such as filters and pivot tables and the extremely handy VLOOKUP formula. This tutorial focuses on what’s called “exploratory analysis”, and will clarify the steps to take when you first confront a huge chunk of data, and you don’t know in advance what to expect from it. We’ll also show you how to use these tools to find the flaws in your data set, so you can make appropriate inferences. If you want to improve your Excel chops with some big data exploration, you’re in the right place.

Note: This tutorial uses Excel 2013. If you’re using a different version, you may notice some slight differences as you go through the steps.


Click on one of the links to access the section in question, or read the original article. The tutorial comes with detailed explanations including screenshots, such as below:

Explore Your data and uncover insights step 3

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