An essential feature of Microsoft Excel, Pivot Tables help organise and summarise user data. The easy-to-use tool can greatly assist with interpreting key trends and drawing conclusions from large data sets.
A basic example of where pivot tables could prove useful is in producing a summary of company spending on essential office supplies (things such as stationary, light bulbs, batteries, USB cables and so on). After you’ve entered all of the raw data into Excel, a pivot table can be created to take care of the necessary calculations and deliver a statistical summary. This will inevitably prompt discussions like, ‘Are we really spending that much on pens?’ and ‘No wonder we never have any batteries.’
Easy to make, easy to use
To the unfamiliar user, this might already sound a bit complex. Likewise, you might be sceptical about the accuracy of Pivot Tables, especially when relying on them to make significant calculations. But while data summation is somewhat complex, thankfully the real intricacy already resides within the Excel application. From a user standpoint, pivot tables are easy to create and easy to use. Crucially, however, this does depend on orderly, consistent input of source data.
To get a clear demonstration of just how easy they are to make, take a look at this straightforward Happy tutorial.
Once created, Pivot Tables can be easily modified to suit your needs or curiosities. Depending on the breadth of the source data, Pivot Tables can be rejigged to illustrate a variety of conclusions.
Returning to the office supplies example, you could choose to view a summary of total spending or total product turnover; sort the tables so that goods are listed in order of largest to smallest quantity (or vice versa); and filter the table to reveal more specific details such as dates of purchase or staff members responsible for making the orders.
This all sounds pretty good, but what happens when changes are made to the Excel source data? Does it mean a whole new Pivot Table needs to be created? The short (and obvious answer) is… no!
Pivot Tables are responsive to any changes made to the source data and will adapt accordingly. Removing data that’s now irrelevant? No problem, out it goes from the pivot table. Adding a whole load of new objects and figures? Easy, the table will expand to properly reflect the updated reality.
It should’ve become clear by now that Pivot Tables exist to prevent you from having to manually perform a range of statistical calculations and comparisons. When working with nothing more than the raw source data (IE without making recourse to a Pivot Table), statistical insights will only become apparent after grabbing a calculator and most likely starting a whole new document or Excel worksheet to keep track of the equations entered. This isn’t just time consuming, but also leaves you with a more fragmented record of the relevant details.
By contrast, Pivot Tables swiftly provide you with a summary of source data, revealing any recurring patterns of significant imbalances therein. And this can all be achieved in a matter of minutes.
- Copy Your Filtered Data on Different Sheets in Excel – a step-by-step guide by Darren Andrews
- Using Slicers with Pivot Tables – a step-by-step guide by Ian Balboa
- Using COUNTIF for Better Data Analysis and Validation, a step-by-step guide by Ed Lepre
Want to learn more?
Learn how to create and use basic Pivot Tables in our Excel Core Level 2 course, available for Excel 2013/2016 and Excel 2007/2010. If you’re a more advanced user, Pivot Tables are covered in detail with our Maximising Pivot Tables with Excelone day course, which is available for private groups. Contact us for more details or for private group options.