How to Read a Pivot Table

by C.D. Crowder

Pivot tables allow you to create an organized summary of data within a spreadsheet. Pivot tables can calculate data by addition, average, counting and other calculations. A data set is summarized in a chart format which can be updated whenever the data set is updated. A pivot table can include multiple columns and rows from a spreadsheet. Reading a pivot table requires you to understand how data is calculated and the meaning of each heading.

Step 1

Open any spreadsheet or other document containing a pivot table. This tutorial will be based upon an Excel pivot table.

Step 2

Sort and view data by the page field. The page field is located at the top of the pivot table and is separate from the rest of the table. Some pivot tables may not include this field. The page field sorts data by a set of main categories from the data set.

Step 3

View column fields at the top of the pivot table. Row fields are listed along the left side of the pivot table. These two sets of fields are the categories which are summarized or calculated within the body of the pivot table.

Step 4

View data items in the body of the pivot table. Data in the center of the pivot table is the actual summarized or calculated data based upon the row, column and page field headings.

Step 5

View grand totals or summaries in the “Total” or “Grand Total” rows and columns. This is the result of the summarized or calculated data.

Sort data by specific headings by clicking the drop-down arrows beside any column or row heading.


  • Don’t change pivot table settings if the table is not your own. This can distort how the data is supposed to be read.


  • Right-click any area of the pivot table to view how data is summarized or calculated. Choose “Field Settings” to see current settings or to change settings.
  • Multiple headings may be included in the rows, columns and data sections. Each category will be listed in the appropriate area. For instance, if the row field includes Names and Places, you will see the headings “Names” and “Places” to the left side of the pivot table along with a list of names and places under each heading.


About the Author

C.D. Crowder has been a freelance writer on a variety of topics including but not limited to technology, education, music, relationships and pets since 2008. Crowder holds an A.A.S degree in networking and one in software development and continues to develop programs and websites in addition to writing.

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