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Five Reasons for Not Relying on the Journal File

Summary

Some SPSS users argue that it's not really necessary to work from syntax. If something goes wrong or a client doesn't believe your results, you can always recover what you did from your journal file. However, the journal file is no reasonable substitute for syntax. This tutorial explains why.

1. Essential Modifications May be Missing

SPSS Variable View Manual Modifications under Variable View are Not Recorded in the Journal File and are Strongly Disrecommended

2. Correct and Incorrect Syntax are Mixed Up

When creating a new variable, the result may sometimes differ from what you needed. In this case, you'll probably delete the new variable and try again. However, both the correct as well as the incorrect syntax will be present in the journal file. And there may be some (or many) lines of syntax in between. Because of this mixture, it may be very hard to track down which commands were eventually discarded and which weren't.

3. Syntax from Different Projects gets Mixed Up

If you work on two or more different projects simultaneously, the commands you run will get mixed up in the journal file (which is strictly chronologically ordered). It may take considerable time and effort to separate the relevant from the irrelevant parts.

4. The Journal File May not Get Backed Up

It is generally considered good practice to create backup copies of projects in a highly structured way. Even if questions are raised months (or even years) after a project was delivered, all project files should still be readily available. An SPSS journal file will usually not be part of such archives. In that case, crucial information will be missing if there are no proper syntax files.

5. Indentation is Removed from Python Lines

In Python, indentation contains essential information on the structure of the code. Unfortunately, when syntax is recorded in the journal file, all indentation gets stripped out. In order for the code to work properly, the correct indentation levels must be manually reinserted. However, it may not be obvious at all what those should be.

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