The name of each SPSS variable in a given file must be unique; it must
start with a letter; it may have up to 8 characters (including letters,
numbers, and the underscore _ (note that certain key words are
reversed and may not be used as variable names, e.g., "compute",
"sum", and so forth). To change an existing name, click in
the cell containing the name, highlight the part you want to change,
and type in the replacement. To create a new variable name, click in
the first empty row under the name column and type a new (unique)
Notice that we can use "cat_dog" but not "cat-dog" and not "cat dog". The hyphen gets interpreted as subtraction (cat minus dog) by SPSS, and the space confuses SPSS as to how many variables are being named.
The two basic types of variables that you will use are numeric
and string. Numeric variables may only have numbers assigned.
String variables may contain letters or numbers, but even if a string
variable happens to contain only numbers, numeric operations on that
variable will not be allowed (e.g., finding the mean, variance,
standard deviation, etc...). To change a variable type, click in that
cell on the grey box with ...
Clicking on this box will bring up the variable type menu:
If you select a numeric variable, you can then click in the width box or the decimal box to change the default values of 8 characters reserved to displaying numbers with 2 decimal places. For whole numbers, you can drop the decimals down to 0.
If you select a string variable, you can tell SPSS how much "room" to leave in memory for each value, indicating the number of characters to be allowed for data entry in this string variable.
The width of a variable is the number of characters SPSS will allow to
be entered for the variable. If it is a numerical value with decimals,
this total width has to include a spot for each decimal, as well as one for
the decimal point. You can change a width by clicking in the width
cell for the desired variable and typing a new number or you can use
the arrow keys at the edge of the cell
The decimals of a variable is the number of decimal places that SPSS
will display. If more decimals have been entered (or computed by
SPSS), the additional information will be retained internally but not
displayed on screen. For whole numbers, you would reduce the number
of decimals to zero. You can change the number of decimal places by
clicking int he decimals cell for the desired variable and typing a
new number or you can use the arrow keys at the edge of the cell
The label of a variable is a string of text to indentify in more
detail what a variable represents. Unlike the name, the label is
limited to 255 characters and may contain spaces and punctuation. For
instance, if there is a variable for each question on a questionnaire,
you would type the question as the variable label. To change or edit
a variable label, simply click anywhere within the cell.
Although the variable label goes a long way to explaining what the
variable represents, for categorical data (discrete data of both
nominal and ordinal levels of measurement), we often need to know which
numbers represent which categories. To indicate how these numbers are
assigned, one can add labels to specific values by clicking on the ...
box in the values cell
Clicking here opens up the Value Labels dialogue box.
The real beauty of value labels can be seen in the Data View by
clicking on the "toe tag" icon in the tool bar , which switches between the numeric values and
We sometimes want to signal to SPSS that data should be treated as
missing, even though there is some other numerical code recorded instead
of the data actually being missing (in which case SPSS displays a single
period -- this is also called SYSTEM MISSING data). In this example,
after clicking on the ... button in the Missing cell, I declared "9",
"99", and "999" all to be treated by SPSS as missing (i.e., these values
will be ignored)
The columns property tells SPSS how wide the column should be for each variable. Don't confuse this one with width, which indicates how many digits of the number will be displayed. The column size indicates how much space is allocated rather than the degree to which it is filled.
The alignment property indicates whether the information in the
Data View should be left-justified, right-justified, or
The Measure property indicates the level of measurement. Since
SPSS does not differentiate between interval and ratio levels of
measurement, both of these quantitative variable types are lumped
together as "scale". Nominal and ordinal levels of measurement,
however, are differentiated
The first step for entering the actual data is to click on the Data View tab.
To enter new data, click in an empty cell in the first empty row. The "Tab" key will enter the value and jump to the next cell to the right. You may also use the Up, Down, Left, and Right arrow keys to enter values and move to another cell for data input.
To edit existing data points (i.e., the change a specific data value), click in the cell, type in the new value, and press the Tab, Enter, Up, Down, Right, or Left arrow keys.