Neil W. Henry
Department of Statistical Sciences and Operations Research
Department of  Sociology & Anthropology

College of Humanities and Sciences
Virginia Commonwealth University

Revised February 2002

The computer-equipped classrooms in the basement of Hibbs provide access to the Base and Advanced Statistics modules of  Version 10 of SPSS for Windows.  SPSS is  also installed on the computers in other public access labs and departmental labs at VCU.  Faculty, students and staff  at VCU can purchase a personal copy of SPSS for academic use from Online@vcu. See the Academic Technology website for details: . There are online courses and tutorials for SPSS: . A useful set of tips for users can be found at

The current version of SPSS for Windows is numbered 11.0. Some labs may still have version 10.0 or 10.1 installed. There are no important differences for the beginner.  If you do decide to buy a copy , however, you should get the most recent version.

Logging in

Shared Directories

Drive L:  is located physically on the Server that links all the individual computers. It contains a series of folders that are administered by faculty members who use these classrooms. The folder Faculty\nhenry contains my files, many of which are SPSS data sets.  Usually you will be using public-use SPSS datasets with a .sav suffix that have been stored in the Faculty\nhenry directory of drive L.  These datasets are write-protected, so that only I can modify them. You can, however, copy a data file to a portable disk for use on another computer. The Save as command in the File pulldown menu will lead you through the save process. Some people advise using the "portable file" format (suffix .por) for moving data from one machine to another, but I have never had problems with the .sav format. In either case, these are files that can be read only by the SPSS program.

The subfolder named Students is not write-protected (if you have logged in as socuser). You can save files into this folder or into one of its subfolders. I use this folder to collect homework and tests and to temporarily store files during class.

Saving Files

When I ask you to turn in an assignment by saving it in Students or one of its subfolders, use your last name or a short version of it as the name of the file. If you save more than one file, use a number after your name to identify the additional files. You could, if absolutely necessary, save material on the hard drive of the computer you are using.   If you do this, create a new folder in C: My Documents using your last name, and save your file(s) in this folder. This should be a "last resort" action, however, I can't reach the individual computers remotely.

SPSS Options

There are innumerable options available that allow the user to modify the window displays and the format of output in SPSS. To access these options select Options from the Edit pull down menu. I suggest checking these General options:

  1. Specify that variable lists display the name of the variable rather than its label. It is usually easier to remember a variable name than its label.
  2. Make variable lists correspond to the order of the variables in the dataset (file order), rather than alphabetical order. In a large data set like the General Social Survey it is useful to have related items clustered together, the way they were asked in the questionnaire. I appreciate alphabetization for classroom demonstrations, but not when I am working on a research project.
  3. If you are going to produce printed graphics on a black and white printer, it is usually a good idea to suppress the colors since they will not show up well. To do this select the option "Cycle through patterns" instead of the default "Cycle through colors." Colors are good, of course, when viewing charts on the monitor. Colors can also be suppressed by editing your SPSS output or when the Print command is implemented.
  4. Note that font options and other output display characteristics can be changed as well.
  5. Select Viewer as the  Output Format at Startup. (See Copying Output section below.)
I suggest that when you have some free time on the computer, such as before class begins, you investigate these options. Since many people will use the same computer, do not assume that an option you change on one day will still be set the same way the next time you use the machine! It is a good habit to check the options at the start of every session.

Editing Output in SPSS

Use the outline on the left side of the Output Viewer to select one or more objects, hide, or delete them. Objects are hidden or revealed by double clicking on the corresponding icon. Sections of output can be hidden by clicking on the "-" box, and revealed by clicking on the "+" box. The Delete key will work on whatever objects have been selected (hold down the Ctrl key to select more than one object). Right clicking the mouse is usually helpful in navigating the outline. Objects can also be "dragged" to new positions in the outline.

Double click on any object (in the right side of the output) to initiate editing. Some objects, like "Titles" are simple text. Pivot tables have the name because they can be rotated: columns and rows can be interchanged. To do this, click on the Pivot pull down menu and select Pivoting Trays. The icons in a pivoting tray can be dragged between row, column and layer positions to change the form of the output. (Only one "layer" at a time can be displayed.)

Column widths are changed by clicking on the column separator and dragging (some separators are invisible!). To change text within a table, double click again on it. If you want to change fonts a Formatting Toolbar is available. Click on the View pulldown menu and select Toolbar. Often SPSS will display output with more (or fewer) decimal places than you wish, or will show numbers in exponent format (e.g., 0.23E-01 instead of .023). The display can be altered by selecting the items you want to change and choosing Cell Properties  from the Format pull down menu. Right-clicking the mouse will also lead to Cell Properties.

You can  insert lines of plain text or new titles and headings into the output between objects: use the Insert pull down menu. This is useful if you are taking notes during class and want to annotate the output as you go along. You can also do this in Word, if you are copying pieces of output into a document.

Copying Output to a Text Processor

Most of the time SPSS produces distinct output "objects" rather than ordinary ASCII  text. These objects are heavily formatted tables (called "Pivot Tables") or charts which can be edited within SPSS.

You can copy-objects-and-paste these pivot tables and charts into MS-Word by using the Copy Objects command in SPSS and then the Paste command in Word. In Word these objects are considered to be pictures: they can be repositioned or resized easily but their internal contents can't be edited in Word. Do the necessary editing in SPSS first and you will get a very nice looking document in Word.

If you have a pivot table in SPSS and use the Copy-paste command sequence, the table will be pasted into Word as a Table, rather than as a picture. In this format you can use Word to edit the table, but you will not get as neat a result.

Some procedures produce plain text output rather than formatted tables. Compare what you get from "Report Summaries in Rows" with what "Case Summaries" produces, to see the difference. You can force SPSS to produce ASCII output instead of pivot tables by selecting DraftViewer in the General Options but I can't imagine why anyone would prefer that.

Saving and Sending Output

You can save all or selected portions of the output window as a .spo output viewer file. Remember, however, that you will have to have  SPSS installed  on the computer you later use to access this output viewer file. You can also save the output file by Exporting it as html, i.e. in a form that can be read by a web browser like Netscape Communicator or Internet Explorer or by Word.

Because the lab computers are connected to the Internet as well as to the VCU network it is easy to send output files to yourself by email.  Just click on Send in the File pull down menu, and fill in the email address you want the file sent to. The file will automatically be attached to any message you add. You can do the same thing with a Word document: look for Send in the File pull down menu.

Warning: SPSS output files can get very large, especially if they include graphs. It won't be a problem to send the file from the lab, but it may be difficult to download a large file to your home computer. Be  selective about what you choose to send.

Printing Output

Always use Print Preview before asking for printed output. It is very easy to be confused about what is really going  to be printed. Preview also will allow you to check pagination. Often some simple editing can substantially improve the look of your printed output. Printing in the public labs is charged for by the page. This is yet another reason to preview your print job, to avoid mistakes!

If you want printed copies of a dataset use the Report Summaries or the Report Summaries by Rows commands under the Statistics/Summarize menu.  You can specify the variable names in the order you want them printed.

Editing Data

There are many ways to edit data in SPSS. First of all, you can manipulate the Data Window rows, columns and cells using the "cut and paste" facilities of the Edit menu. Entire rows or columns can be deleted or copied or moved around.  There are also several important items on the Data pull down menu.

Variables can be Transformed or combined to create new variables. This is very common in survey research, where answers to individual questions ("items") are combined to form "scales" or "indices." It is also common in statistical model building where mathematical functions of the original measurements are computed (e.g., square roots, powers, or logarithms). The Compute and Recode commands are found under the Transform pull down menu.