W18 SPSS Workshop: Creating Charts

Chart Builder in SPSS

Numbers and statistics can be fun, but sometimes putting these numbers into context with a chart or graph may reach a broader audience of understanding.  What do I mean by that?  How many of you will remember a number vs how many of you will remember a graph that shows a trend?

Building charts in SPSS is quite straightforward.  The dataset we will use for this workshop is one of the many Sample datasets that accompany your SPSS program.  For ease of this workshop, I’ve saved the DEMO dataset as an Excel file.  Please download this file and open it in your SPSS program.

Let’s start by creating a barchart for our job satisfaction variable.  We want to see a bar for each level and we want to see the count.


  • Graphs
  • Chart Builder – this will open a dialogue box
    • Notice on bottom half – a gallery of all the different types of charts you can create in SPSS.
    • We want a simple barchart
      • Select bar
      • Then double-click on the first barchart listed
      • Once you do this you should see the skeleton of a bar chart appear in the top half of your dialogue box.
      • All you need to do now, is to drag and drop the variables where they are appropriate.
      • For this example:
        • Select Job satifisfaction and drag it to the x-axis
        • On the right, you may see an Element Properties dialogue box (if you do not see this – Click on the Element Properties button to open it).
        • Note that under Statistics, Count is selected – this is what we want.  But click on this to see what other statistics are available.
      • To create the graph Click OK

You should now see a very plain barchart with frequencies.

Let’s create a chart that shows the average income for each level of job satisfaction.  I’m curious to see whether the folks that are not satisfied with their job have a lower average income.

So, let’s start this again:

  • Graphs
  • Chart Builder – this will open a dialogue box
    • Select Barchart again
    • Drag and drop Job Satisfaction to the x-axis
    • Now drag and drop Household income to the y-axis
    • Notice how the Statistic changed to Mean.  This is what we want.
    • Let’s run in by clicking OK

Hmm…  now that’s an interesting graph!

One last piece missing from this graph – error bars!  Whenever you have charts with means, you should ALWAYS provide some measure of variance.  So let’s add some error bars and we’ll try standard error.

  • Graphs
  • Chart Builder – this will open a dialogue box
    • Select Barchart again
    • Drag and drop Job Satisfaction to the x-axis
    • Now drag and drop Household income to the y-axis
    • Ensure that the statistic is mean
    • Under the statistics box in the Element Properties box, check the Display Error Bars box
      • Now you have a few options, as stated above let’s use the Standard Error option – select Standard Error
      • Click Apply
    • Click OK to run chart

Providing the error bars gives the reader a “fuller” picture of the data.  Although in this case it does not change the story!


  1. Create a barchart that shows the mean household income by job satisfaction for the 2 levels of marital status.  Be sure to include error bars.
  2. What question does this barchart answer?

More types of charts

We’ll investigate different types of charts based on what you are looking for.


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