Using data from .CSV or .TSV files

Some of the common ways in which the data you want to visualize may be formated are .CSV and .TSV files. This can happen with data from some of the open data websites we recommend here, or with data from your own organization.

You may not be familiar with these because they have very often been replaced with Excel files and other such formats for most personal and office uses. Don’t worry tough, they are extremely simple to understand and use. Read on to learn how.

CSV and TSV are acronyms which stand for comma-separated values and tab-separated values, respectively. As the names indicate, these files hold information by simply separating each part with commas and tabs in what are essentially text files. Think of the tabs and commas as the borders between two columns, which are complemented by line breaks for new rows.

Below is an example of what a CSV file looks like. This particular example is from a data visualization of earthquakes which we created based on data from the US Geological Survey found on the American government’s open data portal. 

Screen shot of original CSV data

As you can see, this is not particularly evocative.

Simply copying this data and pasting it into a blank spreadhseet allows you to start to make sense of it. Once the data is in the spreadsheet, select it (it should all be in the first column) and use the “Text to column” tool, found in the Data menu in Microsoft Office Excel (and Open Office Calc).

In the “Text to column” box, make sure to choose “Delimited” width. In the next window pick commas, check that the file looks right in the preview and click “Finish”. Your data should now look much more understandable:

The process is exactly the same with TSV, although naturally you should use tabs instead of commas to separate your text into columns. Once the data is prepared as above, you can easily do calculations based on it, add more information or discard what you don’t need to prepare it for visualization.
(Click here to learn more about structuring your data for visualization.)

When you’re done,  you can save your spreadsheet, import it to the Mapsdata app, and start creating your own data visualizations.

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If you’re still having problems creating your data visualization, please check our How to Use Mapsdata page. If you can’t find the solution to your problem, do send us a line on, we’re always happy to help.