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SPSS DESCRIPTIVES – Problems and Fixes

Running some basic descriptive statistics in SPSS is super easy with the DESCRIPTIVES command. However, the resulting table doesn't even come close to the APA required format or what corporate clients often demand.
So what's the problem? Well, you'll quickly find out if you try and create the table shown below.

Example of Nicely APA Formatted Descriptives Table Created in SPSS Nice and clean APA descriptives table.

SPSS DESCRIPTIVES Example

This table is based on no_1 to no_5 in alcotest.sav. When trying to create it with DESCRIPTIVES, the closest I got was the syntax below.

descriptives no_1 to no_5
/statistics means stddev skewness.

Result

Default SPSS DESCRIPTIVES Table with some Problems Highlighted

Although this table is very easy to create -and does a good job when exploring data- it's not quite what it should have been. So let's dive into some issues.

No Median in DESCRIPTIVES

For some weird reason, DESCRIPTIVES does not include the median. Seriously, I looked it up in the CSR and it's just not there.

Screenshot of SPSS Command Syntax Reference. DESCRIPTIVES does not include the median.

Ok, then let's just skip the median for now and run into the second problem.

Undesired Inferential Statistics

For some statistics -including skewness and kurtosis- SPSS will automatically report their standard errors. But: if I want standard errors, I'll ask for them.

Screenshot of SPSS DESCRIPTIVES tables including some undesired standard errors.

If I don't ask for them, then I probably don't want them. But I get them anyway. And I've several problems with that:

Undesired N Column

When I'm just exploring my data, I like to see the N per variable. It tells me how many missing values each variable has. But if I don't have any missings, I don't want this column. In this case, I rather report N in the title of my table. However, I can't omit N when using DESCRIPTIVES.

Can't Omit “Valid N (listwise)”

In a similar vein, DESCRIPTIVES always includes Valid N (listwise). This tells me how many cases have zero missing values on all variables included in my table. When preparing data -especially for a multivariate analysis- that's great. However, “Valid N (listwise)” puzzles my non SPSS using clients and they don't want to see it. Fortunately, an SPSS Python script does a fair job hiding it. Still, being able to choose whether to include it or not would be highly preferable over always including it and then having to hide it.
A similar point was made in SPSS Correlations in APA Format.

CELLS or STATISTICS?

Table Styling

If you're on SPSS version 22 or earlier, your descriptives table probably looks like the one shown below. Not super pretty but clean and decent.

SPSS DESCRIPTIVES table with legacy table styles

For some reason, SPSS 23 introduced new table styles with grey text on -again- grey backgrounds. I don't like the way they look on screen, let alone when printed out.
If you like the old styles more than the new ones, you can revert to them by setting Original.stt as your table template. On my system, set tlook "C:\Program Files\IBM\SPSS\Statistics\24\Looks\Original.stt". does the trick.

Nicer Descriptives with MEANS

Nice and clean APA descriptives table.

So how to create this descriptives table in APA format? Well, it's utterly simple. Just run means no_1 to no_5
/cells mean stddev median skew.
and transpose the resulting table. Which leaves us with one question: how to transpose a table in SPSS?

Transposing Pivot Tables in SPSS

In contrast to chart templates, table templates can't transpose output for you -which is unfortunate because it would save a lot of time. So there's 3 options:

*Transpose all MEANS tables (but not the case processing summaries).

OUTPUT MODIFY
/SELECT TABLES
/IF commands = ["means"] subtypes =["report"]
/TABLE TRANSPOSE=YES.

Thanks for reading.

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