Turning the tables on raw data

Many government organizations are chartered to collect statistics. But the

real work — making collected information useful in decision-making — means

compiling the raw data into easy-to-understand tables. Unfortunately, this

time-consuming process often entails tabulating data with a statistic package

and then reformatting the results using graphics or word-processing applications.

To reduce the production time and effort in making tables, the Bureau

of Labor Statistics developed the Table Producing Language (TPL) in the

1970s. Although you don't need programming experience to use TPL for data

analysis and publication, learning its many commands requires time and patience.

To sidestep this last hurdle, QQQ Software's latest TPL Tables 5.12

for Windows surrounds TPL with several modules that make building and formatting

tables easier and interactive without diminishing the language's extensive

tabulation and design capabilities. This makes TPL Tables a good choice

for finance, economics, statistics and human resource professionals employed

by government agencies.

Producing tables involves a few basic steps, which can be done manually

(to maintain compatibility with older DOS, OS/2 and Unix versions) or using

the new interactive features. After exporting a Microsoft Corp. Access database

containing unemployment statistics as fixed-length records, I spent a few

minutes preparing a text-based Codebook, which describes the data's layout,

such as field names and their position in the file.

Next, again using a text editor, I built a Table Request file. This

central step involves assembling TPL statements, for example, to compute

statistics (such as average income) and group the values under headings

that you specify.

Finally, I ran the job, which analyzed a 5,000-record database and produced

several tables in just a few minutes.

It likely will take new users a week or so to learn the many computational

and formatting commands. But with that understanding, TPL Tables performs

some amazing tasks, yielding significant time savings and high-quality tables.

For example, layering let me describe a table and then have the software

automatically produce results for each region of the country.

Similarly, the nesting command permits any number of levels on one table.

To test this function, I showed unemployment statistics broken down by gender,

race, age and then marital status.

Besides structuring tables, I selected a range of information from the

database (such as age over 50), included totals and subtotals, and performed

other calculations, including medians and percentiles. Moreover, formatting

options helped me place page breaks and modify color text and column widths.

I would advocate a few changes to TPL Tables' basic interface to make

it easier to select the proper files and run a job. On the other hand, TPL

Tables 5.12 doesn't require the training of past versions because you can

interactively create and modify Codebooks and table requests and then edit

the output.

With TBLD (TBL Table Builder), I designed a table by simply dragging

variables to the appropriate rows and columns in a graphical workspace.

In the same way, I defined computations, entered labels and placed footnotes.

In all, TBLD helped me quickly tap the power of the program with far less

typing and little worry about making syntax errors.

For making last-minute table changes once you see the actual results,

TED, the new TPL Editor, easily reformats PostScript files. I merely clicked

on any part of the completed table displayed on screen, then edited column

widths, deleted rows and changed type styles.

There are still a few loose ends, such as the lack of an interactive

way to build a Codebook for information in a Microsoft SQL database. QQQ

Software said an extra-charge ODBC interface to ease this task is planned

for a fall release.

Nonetheless, TPL Tables 5.12 for Windows streamlines the table production

process by eliminating the need for several applications. The program operates

very fast and offers abundant calculations and formatting options. These

are convincing reasons to give TBL Tables a close look.

—Heck is an InfoWorld contributing editor and manager

of electronic promotions at Unisys Corp. in Blue Bell, Pa.

REPORT CARD

TPL Tables 5.12 for Windows

Score: B+

QQQ Software Inc.

(703) 528-1288

www.qqqsoftware.com

Price and Availability: TPL Tables costs $895 for a single-user license.The price includes one year of support and upgrades. This application isavailable directly from QQQ Software.

Remarks: TPL Tables, a powerful cross-tabulation package, summarizesdata and presents the results as publication-quality tables. It's basedon the mainframe Table Producing Language (TPL), which traditionally requiredhand coding calculations and table layouts. However, this latest versionadds interactive features for HTML output, batch processing, and buildingtable requests and editing the resulting PostScript tables. These enhancementsmake TPL Tables attractive to agency workers faced with transforming rawstatistics into clear presentation material for reports and briefings.

BY Mike Heck
October 18, 2000

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