1.4 Using software in research

Many people use spreadsheets (such as Microsoft Excel) for analysis of data in research.

Using spreadsheets requires extreme care; many extremely expensive and dangerous errors have been made due to using spreadsheets (AlTarawneh and Thorne 2017), including problems when reporting the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Problems may emerge for many different reasons:

Spreadsheets can be used for research and analysis... but you must be very careful!

Many of the problems with using spreadsheets are due to human error, but spreadsheets make the errors hard to find. Some errors emerge because Excel is being used for purposes it is not really designed for (i.e., scientific analysis).

In this subject, we will usually show output from the statistical software package called R(R Core Team 2018), or other popular statistical software packages such as jamovi (The jamovi Project, n.d.) and SPSS (IBM Corp 2016).

Statistical software packages such as R, jamovi, and SPSS can help us to avoid such problems:

  • They are designed for large data sets
  • They allow for reproducible research
  • They allow for a high level of precision in formatting and data visualisation
  • With a little bit of programming, these software packages can be extremely powerful: with one line of code we can apply a change to an entire data set or part of a data set in an instant
  • They have been designed specifically for the types of statistics and data analysis we will be learning about in this subject.


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The jamovi Project. n.d. jamovi (Version 1.0) [Computer Software]. https://www.jamovi.org.
Ziemann, Mark, Yotam Eren, and Assam El-Osta. 2016. “Gene Name Errors Are Widespread in the Scientific Literature.” Genome Biology 17 (1): 1–3.