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“Really, Really Annoying” No More

October 30, 2023

Microsoft recently announced a resolution to a longstanding auto-formatting issue with Excel spreadsheets that has been frustrating researchers for years.

While Microsoft’s popular productivity products, such as Word and Excel, were perhaps designed with industry workplaces in mind, their widespread adoption in specialized academic settings has led to some particular frustrations with the “one-size-fits-all” autocorrect utility.

Entering date information in Excel, or what Excel believed to be a date, was a frequent source of frustration for researchers – most notably, scholars working with genomic data. For example, Excel’s auto-formatting converted symbols for genes such as SEPT2 (Septin 2) into the date “September 2nd.” These errors were even widespread enough to be noted in the scientific literature and Excel was singled out as a particular problem according to a 2016 study. Over the years, scientists had developed workarounds but, all in all, found the problem “really, really annoying.”

According to the Microsoft announcement, a toggle feature allowing users to turn off automatic data conversions is now available for Windows Version 2309 (Build 16808.10000) or later and Mac Version 16.77 (Build 23091003) or later.

While this software update will hopefully address one source of data-related confusion, data management remains an environment of ever-evolving requirements, challenges and standards as data-sharing becomes more often the rule in many fields, rather than the exception.

The Claremont Colleges Library is happy to offer consultations and workshops on data management tailored to your specific questions, so we encourage you to reach out and look forward to helping you work through your data needs.