SPSS syntax is a language containing instructions for
analyzing and editing data and other SPSS commands.
- How to paste SPSS syntax?
- How to run SPSS syntax?
- Writing simpler syntax
- How to get SPSS syntax?
- Why even use SPSS syntax?
SPSS users working directly from the menu may not actually see they syntax they're running. However, this is a terrible practice and we'll explain why in a minute. So let's download and open bank.sav -partly shown below- and jump right in.
How to paste SPSS syntax?
Now let's suppose I'd like to gain some insight into the percentages of male and female respondents. I could first navigate toas shown below.
I'll now move gender into the variable box and perhaps request a bar chart as well.
Now clickingmay seem the obvious thing to do. A much better idea, however, is to click the button. Upon doing so, a new SPSS window opens which is known as the Syntax Editor. It's recognized by the orange icon in its left top corner.
The Syntax Editor contains a FREQUENCIES command which holds the instructions we just gave SPSS in the Frequencies dialog. However, we don't see the frequency distribution and bar chart we asked for. This is because we still need to run the command we just created.
How to run SPSS syntax?
The simplest way to run syntax is to select the command(s) you'd like to run and click the “run selection” icon in your toolbar.
A faster way to run syntax is to use several shortkeys, especially
- F2 for selecting the command in which your mouse pointer is located;
- Ctrl + a for selecting all syntax;
- Ctrl + r for running all selected commands.
So let's now run our pasted syntax. On doing so, a new window will open, containing our frequency table and barchart. This is an output window which we'll discuss in our next tutorial.
How to get SPSS syntax?
The right way to do basically anything in SPSS -editing and analyzing data, creating tables and charts and more- is by running syntax. So how to get syntax? First off, using thebutton from the menus adds syntax to your syntax window. If you don't have a syntax window open yet, it'll open one for you. Options for opening a syntax window are
- using the button from the menus;
- drag and drop a syntax file into the Data Editor window (shown below);
- clicking the New Syntax toolbar icon;
- Navigate to .
If you've a syntax window open, you still need the actual syntax. Options to get the syntax you need are
- use the button from SPSS’ menu;
- copy-paste syntax from our tutorials, online forums and elsewhere;
- type the commands you need into the syntax window.
Now, typing syntax may seem like a crazy thing to do at this point. However, typing syntax is much easier than it seems because most of it can be dramatically simplified.
Writing simpler syntax
The syntax we just pasted from the menu was:
Now typing all that manually is a lot of work. However, we'll get the exact same results if we run:
Just typing and running this is much faster and easier than clicking through all menu options. So if you want to get real good -and real fast- with SPSS, start learning short syntax. This will take some practice but it will save you tons of time and effort in the longer run.
SPSS Syntax Files
We can now save all contents of our Syntax Editor as a syntax file by going to
When saving syntax in newer SPSS versions, something like * Encoding: UTF-8. may be added. Just leave and ignore this, it's not meant for you but, rather, some kind of “note to self” from SPSS.
Why even use SPSS syntax?
The single best SPSS practice is doing everything from syntax. Some reasons for this are
- you'll always know exactly which steps you took in which order so you can prove that your results are correct;
- if you made some mistake -don't we all sometimes?- you can correct it and rerun everything you did in just seconds;
- you'll work way faster than from the menu and you never have to do things twice;
- some of the best SPSS tricks and time savers are available as syntax only.
So say you run 10 tables and charts from the menu. And then you realize you should have filtered out all respondents working in IT. Now you have to start all over again: remove the unwanted respondents and click your way through all the same menus and dialogs again...
Sounds like a terrible idea. Doesn't it?
Unfortunately, I see students having to do days of SPSS work all over again on a daily basis. Not working from syntax really is the very worst SPSS practice.
So say I run those 10 tables and charts and I saved all syntax. Then I realize I should have filtered out all respondents working in IT. Ok. No problem. I'll just add SELECT IF (jtype <> 3). to the top of my syntax and rerun all tables and charts in one go.
Thanks for reading!
THIS TUTORIAL HAS 65 COMMENTS:
By Njobvu Michael on June 22nd, 2015
The explanation of the tutorial has been clear and more elaborate. However I needed examples of the real data for instance if I need to get separately the variables, how do I go about.
By Ruben Geert van den Berg on June 22nd, 2015
Thanks for your comment. However, I don't entirely understand your question. Could you explain a bit more elaborately what you're missing? Perhaps it's covered by later tutorials, these very first ones basically just explore SPSS' three main windows for getting an overview of how things basically work.
By John F Hall on July 20th, 2015
Might be an idea to insert a completely blank Syntax Editor before mentioning the Output Viewer, then show how to get one for the employee data set. Not sure about File > Open > Data: double click is enough provided the syntax goes into the output file. If employee.sav is already open, File > Open > Syntax would perhaps be more appropriate, followed by some simple examples with output shown (as an intro to Output Viewer?).
Again hyperlinks needed to previous, following or other tutorials.
By Murtala on July 27th, 2015
Hi,Mr.Ruben.You've changed my life.I've been googling about how to understand and use SPSS for the past 1-yr;but today i got your site and it's has immensely helped me-inspired me-to learn SPSS.Thanx alot.I look forward to learning more from your wealth of knowledge.Thanks.I'm from Nigeria.
By Anthony Jusu on July 28th, 2015
A bit difficult, since thiss i my first time ever