A spreadsheet is a software program you use to easily perform mathematical calculations on statistical data and, such as totaling long columns of numbers or determining percentages and averages.

And if any of the raw numbers you put into your spreadsheet should change – if you obtain final figures to substitute for preliminary ones, for example – the spreadsheet will update all the calculations you’ve performed based on the new numbers.

You also can use a spreadsheet to generate data visualizations like charts to display the statistical information you've compiled on a website.

You can use free applications like Google Docs to create a spreadsheet. You just need to sign up for a free Google account.

You also can purchase Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program to run on your computer.

Both spreadsheets programs work in similar ways.

Excel has far more sophisticated tools and features.

A Google Docs spreadsheet has the advantage of allowing you to easily create a data visualization or map mashup using other Google Apps such as Google Gadgets (see, for example, this story on how The Guardian uses Google Docs spreadsheets to produce its databases and data visualizations).

This tutorial describes how to create and do calculations on a Google Docs spreadsheet, with some notations about differences in Microsoft Excel.

Filed under: Data Visualization