When you're working with data in CSV format, it's likely you will need to open the data in a spreadsheet program, like Excel. It's no secret that there are a few "kinks" that can happen (commonly!) when trying to open your file in Excel. To avoid these frustrating setbacks to what should be a simple task, we'll walk through here how to successfully open a CSV in Excel, error-free.
Before we begin, let's review those most common head-scratchers that you may encounter while trying to open a CSV file in Excel.
- Leading zeroes are dropped - an absolute nightmare if you're dealing with zip codes, account numbers, or any other important numerical value in your dataset. You will find yourself in good company if you go straight to Excel File > Open > your CSV file and then watch those all important digits fall off into the abyss...
- Regular text is changed to date format - another formatting issue, you'll see text magically transformed to date format, rendering the original information unreadable.
- All text is consolidated to one column - as if Excel read your file as one long, run-on sentence. You will have no tabular formatted data, because everything is crammed into one column.
There are plenty of other issues that may arise, depending on your dataset, but these are the most common that can turn a simple task of opening a file, into a truly annoying project to deal with, if you're unfamiliar with the solutions to fix them.
What it boils down to is this: Excel is a spreadsheet program, designed to automatically detect and format data to fit it's model. What happens when you simply open a CSV (which is just plain text
) is that your simple and straightforward data gets translated and transformed by Excel's programming. During this process, things can go a little awry. Excel can make mistakes (yes really!
) when it translates your data.
So, what do we do about it?
Why, we follow the specific steps to help Excel translate the CSV file correctly. It sounds more complex than it really is. The lovely people at Excel know about this file translation hijinks, and they have a built-in feature for you to use, so that it doesn't happen to you. So, skip the File > Open shortcut and follow these steps instead...