Variable Labels and Value Labels in SPSS

by Karen

SPSS Variable Labels and Value Labels are two of the great features of its ability to create a code book right in the data set.  Using these every time is good statistical practice.

SPSS doesn’t limit variable names to 8 characters like it used to, but you still can’t use spaces, and it will make coding easier if you keep the variable names short.  You then use Variable Labels to give a nice, long description of each variable.  On questionnaires, I often use the actual question.

There are good reasons for using Variable Labels right in the data set.  I know you want to get right to your data analysis, but using Variable Labels will save so much time later.

1. If your paper codesheet ever gets lost, you still have the variable names.

2. Anyone else who uses your data–lab assisitants, graduate students, statisticians–will immediately know what each variable means.

3. As entrenched as you are with your data right now, you will forget what those variable names refer to within months.  When a committee member or reviewer wants you to redo an analysis, it will save tons of time to have those variable labels right there.

4.  It’s just more efficient–you don’t have to look up what those variable names mean when you read your output.

The really nice part is SPSS makes Variable Labels easy to use:

1. Mouse over the variable name in the Data View spreadsheet to see the Variable Label.

2. In dialog boxes, lists of variables can be shown with either Variable Names or Variable Labels.  Just go to Edit–>Options.  In the General tab, choose Display Labels.

3. On the output, SPSS allows you to print out Variable Names or Variable Labels or both.  I usually like to have both.  Just go to Edit–>Options.  In the Output tab, choose ‘Names and Labels’ in the first and third boxes.

Value Labels are similar.  But Value Labels are descriptions of the values a variable can take.  Labelling values right in SPSS means you don’t have to remember if 1=Strongly Agree and 5=Strongly Disagree or vice-versa.  And it makes data entry much more efficient–you can type in 1 and 0 for Male and Female much faster than you can type out those whole words, or even M and F.  But by having Value Labels, your data and output still give you the meaningful values.

Once again, SPSS makes it easy for you.

1. If you’d rather see Male and Female in the data set than 0 and 1, go to View–>Value Labels.

2. Like Variable Labels, you can get Value Labels on output, along with the actual values.  Just go to Edit–>Options.  In the ‘Output Labels’ tab, choose ‘Values and Labels’ in the second and fourth boxes.

Want to learn more? If you’re just getting started with data analysis in SPSS, or would like a thorough refresher, please join us in our online workshop Introduction to Data Analysis in SPSS.

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

TSS June 7, 2010 at 10:59 am

I was wondering if you can help me with viewing variable labels while in the Data View. you say that one can:
1. Mouse over the variable name in the Data View spreadsheet to see the Variable Label.

Yet I do not seem to have this feature on my version of SPSS (17.0). Is this a setting or perhaps a feature on a different version?


Karen August 6, 2010 at 9:58 am

That feature should definitely be in version 17. I have never seen it not turned on, but you can always check the Options in the Edit menu. I would make sure you have variable labels set up. Nothing will show up if a variable has no label, of course.


syakirah December 3, 2010 at 3:39 am

in version 19, what is the function of role in the variable view…how we want to differentiate them?


amy May 9, 2012 at 2:40 am

Hi -

Any help would be much appreciated! How do I display all value labels? I would like to print with all this information visible and cannot find a way to do it! I have a very long telephone questionaire in SSPS and do not want to have to retype the whole thing! Please help!!!


Karen May 9, 2012 at 11:33 am

Hi Amy,

Go to File –> Display Data File Information –> Working File.

It will give you two tables, one of which lists all value labels. I agree it’s useful to be able to print that out.



dhaf May 29, 2012 at 11:27 pm

hi there! please help me with this, i just wanna know is there a way to view labels without counts or zero frequency for the Output Tables? hope you understand what i meant :). sample: for variable1, entry must be “1 to 5″. if no one answer “1″, how can i generate a table of frequency showing that value 1 has no counts or zero.

1 = 0
2 = 3
3 = 4
4 = 1
5 = 2

Thanks in advance. :)


Karen June 1, 2012 at 10:46 am

I do understand what you’re asking and I don’t know off the top of my head.

Two things I would try 1) see if having value labels helps keep all values on the table. Otherwise SPSS doesn’t know those values exist. 2) if that fails, define 1 as a missing value.

That said, if anyone else knows the answer right away, please feel free to chime in….



gary December 9, 2012 at 11:48 pm

When I run the analysis in SPSS, all of my questions get analyzed as opposed to just the one variable name. For instance if I have a variable perf and another variable trst and I want to find the mean, SPSS tells me the mean of all questions from the survey under perf and trst as opposed to just perf and trst. Can anyone help?


Karen December 12, 2012 at 11:59 am

Hi Gary,

Maybe. That seems very strange. Usually you have to specify which variables you want. Can you tell me more about which procedure you’re using and what you’re inputting?



austine January 14, 2013 at 11:19 am

I have a table consisting 12 male frequency and 8 female frquency. how can I code it in spss??


Karen January 16, 2013 at 10:16 am

Hi Ausine,

I’m not sure exactly what it is you’re trying to do. Can you explain in more detail?



Huseyin October 12, 2013 at 6:51 pm

You can do it by Weight Cases. Create two variables to do this: gender and frequency. Assuming male = 1, female = 2, enter 1 at the first row of gender and enter 12 for its frequency. Similarly enter 2 for the second row of gender and enter 8 for its frequency. Then click Data –> Weight Cases and choose Weight Cases by option. After then click frequency from the left and pass it to the Frequency Variable and click OK. From now on, SPSS will weight cases using your frequencies.


CW January 23, 2013 at 9:31 am


i have a question about formating letters of variable labels. I didn’t found any explanation where to format characters as subscripts. Is there any option for that. Otherwise i would have to edit each Output manually and that is quite time consuming. Any ideas??


Karen January 29, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Hmm, not sure I’ve ever seen that. I don’t know if that’s possible, but you can create custom templates for tables and graphs, but I’m not sure subscripts are possible.

Anyone else ever see this?



noah April 5, 2013 at 3:24 am

Is it possible to enter more than one value label in a cell for example if a respondent had more than one preferences.


Karen April 8, 2013 at 9:48 am

No, you’ll need a separate variable for multiple responses. These either need to be in separate columns or you need multiple rows of data per person, depending on the analysis you’re doing. This is an example of when figuring out what is a unit of analysis and what is a variable can get tricky.


Iyke May 9, 2013 at 3:58 am

Hi Karen

We’ve just the SPSS we use to SPSS 19 but when i create/enter my values in the variable view ie the drop down menu, they don’t seem to come up in the data view. Please help.


Karen May 17, 2013 at 11:18 am

Iyke, go to the View menu in SPSS and click “Value Labels.” That will display the labels in the data view instead of the values.


Abdellah Jemal May 20, 2013 at 3:17 am

Hi Kare
How Create a new variable name GENDER_1 which takes the value of 1 for male (m) and 0 otherwise (f) by SPSS 16 from the existing variable “Gender ” .


Karen May 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Hi Abdellah, You will proabaly use the Recode into Different Variables function (in the Transform menu). But it depends on how the original Gender variable is set up.


GCMuser June 10, 2013 at 11:30 am

Hi there,

I am trying to combine three(3) value sets together. How do I do that without having to completely type all of the values from 2 & 3 into value 1?


Karen June 10, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I’m not sure if you mean that you have three variable with the same value labels that you’re trying to assign or if you’re trying to recode three variables into one. Either can be done.


Mahmud June 14, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I am trying to edit my tables to conform with APA. I know in SPSS version 20, you can easily produce APA tables by using Compact Academic Times Roman. I now have version 21 and it does not have the Compact Academic Times Roman and I happen to have the graduate version, too. So what can I do


Karen July 1, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Hi Mahmud,

I’m not really an APA expert. I knew it well a few decades ago, but it has changed since then. So I’m not sure.

If anyone else knows, please feel free to comment.


Tareq June 17, 2013 at 1:01 am

Dear all,

How can I print out a list of all variables and values codes in SPSS?

Many thanks


Karen July 1, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Tareq, Instructions are here: How to Get a Code Book from SPSS


Sam July 25, 2013 at 6:52 am


Is it possible to add in value labels for multiple variables in one go using SPSS syntax, and if so how? I have around 50 variables which all need the same variable labels added…

Many thanks.


Karen July 26, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Hi Sam,

Yes. Just list them together.

Value labels Variable1 Variable2 Variable3
1 Yes
0 No.

Assigns Yes and No to 1 and 0 for all three variables.


Sam July 27, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Thanks Karen


Amber August 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Hi – I would like to know if there is a way to get SPSS to display the value labels for predictors in a multinomial logistic regression. I’ve figured out how to get the output to display the value label for the dependent variable, but not the factors. For instance, it might say “FACTORA = 1″ in the output table, but not “FACTORA = Yes” (where “yes” is the label for the value of “1″ for the “FACTORA” variable). It would make interpretation of the output so much easier if you could tell, at a glance, which level of the factor yielded the particular log-odds for the outcome in question. Thanks so much!


Karen September 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Not that I know of. That would be nice, though.


TLC October 23, 2013 at 5:22 pm

What about applying a value label to a range of values, such as:

0-4 = “<5 yrs"
5-9 = "5 to 10 yrs"
10-high = "10+ yrs"

Is that possible in SPSS 19? I'd really like to avoid recoding the variable.

Thanks in advance!


Karen October 25, 2013 at 9:12 am

I have never tried. Did you try it?

If the range doesn’t work, you could always specify each value. For example:
0 ‘<5 years’
1 ‘<5 years’



Shereef November 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I would like to know the following with regard to regression using SPSS

I want to regress consumption ( dependent) with price, family size, house size, education of family head, job of family head, awareness etc. (variables) . How the ‘measure’ column is selected while entering data.( ie. scale/ordinal/nominal in variable view). Can I do linear regression for all these data simultaneously.


Karen November 8, 2013 at 11:38 am

Hi Shereef,

Yes, you can run a simultaneous model. How you define those in the measure view doesn’t affect the analysis. It’s more about how you code variables. I would recommend using the GLM procedure, rather than the regression, as it will do the coding of categorical variables for you.


Aisling Treanor November 14, 2013 at 11:18 am

Hi, I have about 15 variables which all need labelling but spss will only allow me to label 9, it would allow me to create a 10th variable. Is there any way around this or will spss only allow you to label a certain number of variables?
Any help would be greatly appreciated.


Karen November 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Hi Aisling,

I can’t imagine why it would only let you label 9. No, you should be able to do more.


Rustam November 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Hi –
Is that possible to get variable labels and value labels? For example, varible ‘C’ has label ‘Country’ and value labels:
Now we need to create 3 binary variables ‘C0′,’C1′,’C2′ with labels ‘Country is Other’, ‘Country is USA’, ‘Country is Russia’. How can I do it in syntax?

Many thanks


Karen November 25, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Hi Rustam,

Not sure whether you’re asking how to create the 3 binary variables or how to label them.

You do the first with a RECODE command and the second with the VARIABLE LABELS command.


tsering November 29, 2013 at 9:37 am

I wanted to know how to enter variables in case of sub questions and also how to make sure that they “connect” when shown in frequency or graph?
Thank you


Naima Khurshid November 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm


I am trying to assign values to semantic differential question in SPSS

important 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 unimportant

where 1 = “I absolutely agree with the meaning in left”” and 7 = “I absolutely agreewith the meaning in right”

How to assign value and labels to this situation in SPSS? I am so confused, need help urgently


Karen December 3, 2013 at 11:10 am

Hi Naima,

You’ll have to give me more detail about what is confusing you.

I’m not sure why you aren’t just using the labels you mention. You’ll want to make sure that a 1 always has the same meaning for every item (and I suspect this is the tricky part). For example, make sure 1 is always the more positive end of the scale. Not sure if all your items have a positive/negative valence or some other attribute that you can always say the left end has an equivalent meaning.


Jenna February 3, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Hi! I have three variables and used a likert scale for each. I then added response scores for each scale but I do not know what to do with the Values column in the Variable View. Should I leave that with None? And am I right with adding the scores? If it’s possible, I would appreciate to hear an answer from you soon. Thanks!


Karen February 14, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Hi Jenna,

The values column is for labelling the values. For example, you may want to say 1=low, 5=high, just to help you remember.


ashwin March 29, 2014 at 4:14 am

wanted to know, can we enter ‘don’t know’ response from a questionnaire to VALUES label in spss spreadsheet or is it necessary to enter it in MISSING labels.

Eg: if the question is “what is the religion of the head of household” & the answer for it is ‘don’t know’ can we enter it in value label itself.

Thank You


Karen April 4, 2014 at 9:33 am

Hi Ashwin,

You can do either, depending on what you want to know from the analysis. So step back and strategize. This is a good issue to discuss with colleagues. I find it’s often helpful to talk things through with someone.


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