For many researchers, it’s the tech tool they use most often. Excel is ubiquitous because it is so flexible. As the world’s most common spreadsheet software (its name is almost synonymous with spreadsheets, in much the same way that Xerox is synonymous with photocopying), Excel is used to do all sort of things.

For example, In research I have worked on we have used Excel to:

  • Store and organize data
  • Analyze data
  • Visualize data and produce reports
  • Keep track of progress

But I’m here with a humble request: let’s put Excel to death.

Ok, yes, I’m being overly dramatic, but let’s go over some of the issues with Excel.

  • It is bloated with far more features than 99% of users ever need .
  • Although Microsoft has made embracing the cloud a priority in recent years, the company has been slow to embrace this massive change, meaning that it is still catching up to others (see Google Sheets, for example) whose offerings enable real-time collaboration.
  • Excel struggles to handle any type of complicated data. More often, people end up with a huge stash of disconnected spreadsheets. Trying to remember what information is where is the stuff of many researchers’ nightmares.
  • Excel’s default settings for data visualization are notoriously bad, meaning that many produce monstrosities (though people like Stephanie Evergreen, Ann Emery, and Cole Nussbaumer are doing admirable work to counter the scourge of terrible data viz).
  • Finally, Excel is often used for purposes for which it isn’t designed. As a simple progress tracker for an individual, it works fine. But get anything beyond that and using spreadsheets to, say, manage team progress and it quickly becomes unwieldy.

Ok, perhaps the problem isn’t Excel itself. The problem is more that researchers tend to overuse it. Excel is the round peg that researchers attempt to smash into all sorts of square holes.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing a series of articles about alternatives to Excel. The main question with which I’ll start each article is: what are you attempting to achieve?

For some purposes, Excel will be the best tool. For others, it will not be. And being able to determine when Excel is the right tool — and when it is not — will, I hope, help you to make your research more efficient and more effective.

Leave a Reply