Columns and Rows: Any Difference?

on August 28, 2012

This is the 2nd post in a series on how to format your data for Tableau Public. You can read the first post on general cleaning here

One tricky concept when working with data, specifically with Excel or Text Files, is why certain fields should be multiple columns and others should be in a single column. For example, sometimes you get data in a format that looks like this:

This format is called a crosstab, and we generally don't want our data to look like this. In this video, we try to demystify the concept and explain why.

As the video goes over, items that can be grouped as part of a larger relationship should probably be in one column. For example, the following would almost always be in one column:

  • Years (1999, 2000)
  • States (CA, WA)
  • Company (Apple, Google)

Whereas fields that are completely unrelated (e.g. School Subject, School Location) probably will get their own column.

In the video, we used a data reshaping tool to change the column fields into rows. You can learn more about the tool at the bottom of this knowledge base article.

Stay tuned for one more video in this series. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions for improvement, e-mail us at



This was a great video, thank you for making this. The pen and paper at the end was very well done.

Thanks Dan, a very useful video, but can I suggest a follow-up? That is, can you show us how to get all those individual columns into one. Pivot tables (if that's what you used to do it) are very confusing, a simple walk-though on combining data from multiple columns (like months)into a single column (like year)would be very useful, as I encounter plenty of data presented like this.

@Joe: Thanks for the comment!

@Scott: We used an unofficial data-reshaping tool. We'll look into making a video on how to use it (though I think there's one or two examples floating on YouTube if you search Tableau Data Reshaper). In the mean time, you can read more about it in the linked KB article. Thanks for the comment!

Just tried the reshaper add-on. Worked a treat, exactly what I've been looking for, wish I'd discovered it earlier, thanks!