An introduction to CSV files

Comma Separated Values (CSV) files have for many years been the basic currency of transferring data between systems. By placing a comma between each unit of data they allow information to be exported from one system and imported into another, ensuring that – for example – the cell contents of a spreadsheet are preserved.

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Creating CSVs

CSV files are plain text so they are easy to create with no need for special software. If you are using a spreadsheet like Excel the Save As option can create a CSV. Many database programs also have a similar function.

Because CSV files are composed simply of text they can be edited, if necessary, using a simple text editing program like Windows NotePad or one of the many freeware alternatives. You must ensure that if you do make manual changes you don’t introduce commas in the wrong place and mess up the integrity of the data.

It’s important to note that in creating a CSV file from a spreadsheet you will only carry over the data contents of the cells. Formulas will not be preserved. If you’re taking data from a PDF to a spreadsheet there’s no need to create a CSV as a service like PDF to Excel found at https://pdftables.com/ will do a straight conversion for you.

Because CSV are not structured or object-orientated they are simple to deal with and can be easily imported into a variety of different applications. You can import contacts into Outlook as a CSV for example, or use one as the source of a mail merge for correspondence.

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Useful tips

There are occasions where the data may contain commas – comment fields for example – and this can throw a CSV file out of sync. Fortunately there is a way around this. By enclosing the field containing commas in quotation marks, “like this, say” the comma is treated as part of the field and not as a data separator. If the field contains quotation marks already, you simply add an extra set around the outside (https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch001356.htm).

The world of eCommerce revolves around data and quite often you might want to import information relating to customers. Data acquired from social networking, for example. Quite often this information will be supplied in a CSV format to make it easy to import to whatever system you are using.

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