Definition of a Pivot Table

by Shane Hall

A pivot table is a handy tool for summarizing data, featured in many spreadsheet programs, such as Microsoft's popular Excel package. Pivot tables can sort and count data in a spreadsheet, then display the summarized data in a form specified by the user. They can provide summarized data as raw counts, totals, or averages.


Pivot tables originated in Lotus' spreadsheet program, Lotus Improv. The program included a feature that grouped and aggregated data to make analysis simpler.


Pivot tables create informative, user-friendly summaries from long spreadsheets of raw data. They can summarize data in various ways, including averages and frequencies.


Many spreadsheet programs, such as Excel, contain tools that guide a user step by step to create pivot tables. With these tools, known as wizards, users can summarize data simply by dragging columns to sections of the table.


Another advantage of pivot tables is that they can be easily rearranged, simply by clicking on columns and moving them around the table.


Pivot tables seem intimidating to use, because they often are not explained well. With practice, however, they become easy to build. Experienced spreadsheet users find them an easy way to build flexible data summaries.

About the Author

Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.

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