The Spreadsheet – an OFC Superstar

Since my last post here, over 7 months ago, we’ve completed first substantial drafts of all 10 chapters of the book on Collecting in the IT era. The literature survey has made a substantial contribution to the material; and the use of an Excel spreadsheet enabled the process. This is just another example of the massive contribution that the humble spreadsheet has made to modern life since its inception in 1979. Designed ostensibly for manipulating numbers, it has proved equally useful for organising text.

In my first foray into writing books at the National Computing Centre in the 1980s, I tried recording key points that I read or discovered about a subject, in a Word document, and then rearranging them into separate chapters. It was a pretty effective method – but only worked for fairly concise units of text and relatively few of them. For this book I have used a spreadsheet to assemble more than 3,400 chunks of relevant points from over 300 books, papers and other sources; many of the chunks consisting of part-paragraphs of over 80 words of text either copied from digital texts or hand-typed-in. Against each chunk are columns of reference details and allocations to particular chapters. The ability to apply consistent organisation over such a large volume of material, and to be able to search and filter every column, provides a huge advancement in capability over my 1980’s efforts; a capability to identify key points, to assess differing views, and to construct new thoughts and ideas around a particular topic.

The simplicity and power of its structures across both numbers and text, makes the spreadsheet a premier performer in creating order from chaos; it is the hammer and wheel for 21st century individuals.

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