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How to Download Data to Spreadsheets
Step Zero: OrientationIdentify where your browser saves files; perhaps the simplest target is directly onto the computer's desktop (caveat about public machines). Also, know where the Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet application is located on your computer.
Step One: Downloading
- If the web page author has provided Microsoft Excel .xls files for download, simply click on the link to begin the download process. Most of these lesson plans offer .xls downloads. One of our Summer Institute participants developed an algebra unit for Clarisworks. For zipped files, your Windows or Macintosh operating system may need some decompressing helper applications.
- If the web page author has not provided Microsoft Excel .xls files for download, use the browser's "Save as . . ." command (under the "File" pull-down menu) and save the page contents in the format of TEXT.
Step Two: Importing
- If your browser already recognizes .xls files, it will launch Microsoft Excel and open the downloaded file as a spreadsheet. If it does not, your computer may prompt you to "Pick app" -- that is, choose the spreadsheet application in which to open the file (in this case, Microsoft Excel).
- Open the text file in Microsoft Excel: launch Excel, choose "Open" from the "File" pull-down menu, and select the downloaded file. If the file is not listed in the default folder, make sure you're looking at the target folder for downloads; and that you've selected "All files" under "List Files of Type:" menu.
Step Three: Delimiting
- This part may require some ingenuity or patience. Now that you have a text file of the data, you need to tell the spreadsheet application how to delimit the data -- that is, identify what markers in the text to interpret as cell boundaries, so that individual pieces of data go into individual cells. Common delimiters include commas and spaces. If you do not delimit the text, all of it will likely glom into one cell.
- Some spreadsheet applications will prompt you to delimit the information. Recent versions of Excel are particularly clever, offering a "Text Import Wizard" series of menus that will guide you through the process. For example, if you select the Wizard's "Fixed Width" radio button, it offers a graphical interface in which you can literally plunk down vertical lines around what you eyeball to be the columns in a preview of the file.
- Try downloading and importing the Chichester School District Data Book Profile from the Government Information Sharing Project, one of the sites from our Sets of Data page.
Step Four: "If all else fails . . ."
- There is no one sure-fire way that guarantees convenient download from the web and convenient importation into a spreadsheet application. Some sites offer a veritable range of friendly download choices, such as text and compressed spreadsheet files; others offer only scanned-in images (.gif or .jpg files) or Portable Document Format (.pdf) files, the contents of which are difficult or altogether impossible to manipulate. And even if you do successfully download a file, delimiting its contents may involve some perseverance or ingenuity or both.
In short, you may come across some wonderful information that you simply will never extract from the web without manually keying it in, cell by cell.
- Consult some FAQs and newsgroups:
- comp.apps.spreadsheets FAQ
- Section 6: Where can I learn about spreadsheets?
Section 10: For the masses: Excel;
Section 14: Obscure: File formats (Tab-delimited format, Comma-Separated Values format, and Excel formats)
- Highlights for Excel for Windows
- General Information, Frequently Asked Questions, Downloadable Files and Add-Ins, and Excel for Windows Newsgroups.
- Highlights for Excel for Macintosh
- General Information, Frequently Asked Questions, Downloadable Files and Add-Ins, and Excel for Macintosh Newsgroup.
- Ask Richard or call the Math Forum at (800)756-7823.
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