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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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

D. RAJA April 28, 2016 at 3:02 am

My patient data file has a variable named “Medical history” where i have inputs like asthma, hypertension, asthma and hypertension, diabetes, diabetes and hypertension, Arthritis, Arthritis and asthma. How to give label for such a value?


Jordan March 16, 2016 at 1:53 am

I have imput the values and my frequency tables show the catorgories by i still have value 1,2 etc on the horizontal axis
Am i doing something wrong


Karen March 26, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Hi Jordan,

There is an option for tables to show either the values or the value labels. You can change this in the Options, which is usually under the Edit menu.


Nicola January 19, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Do the values have to be whole numbers? I am trying to group my data such as 4.4-5 is well above average, 3.6-4.3 is somewhat above average, and so on, but SPSS will not allow it. Is there another way?


Karen January 19, 2016 at 2:57 pm

They do. You’ll have to first recode those ranges into a new variable with whole numbers. Then label that new one.


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