Why PivotTables?


You probably didn’t expect etymology in this book, but it here goes. When I probably should have been learning Excel in high school, I took a Greek class instead.

I haven’t used my Greek a lot, but one area where I have improved is etymology, the study of a word’s origins. Let’s take a key word of the book: “analysis.” This is a Greek word. What does it mean?

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Think of the word’s opposite: “synthesis.” It comes from “syn,” meaning “together” and “thesis,” meaning “place.” “Synthesis” is the putting together of things. “Analysis,” then, is the breaking apart of things.

This describes the analyst’s role well. An analyst does a lot of data manipulatio, breaking apart data to explore hidden realtionships. Within Excel, the PivotTable is perhaps the best way to do this.

Back to our analogy to WD-40. Have you ever had a lock that just wouldn’t turn? Spray some WD-40 on it and it moves. This is how I see PivotTables. Insights “stuck” in the data, and the PivotTable will let you spin the data to find them.

PivotTables should be your primary source of reporting in Excel. The majority of reports at an office are inconsistently calculated and formatted. For example, new rows are added but do not figure into the grand total. Or the column labels are hard to read. PivotTables do all this “housekeeping” work so that you can focus on the data analysis.

Best of all, the PivotTable is infinitely flexible.

Remarkably, this is a tool that I never used until I got into the workforce. Master the PivotTable now and employers will notice.

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