Institutional researchers

Choosing Between SAS, Stata, and SPSSInstitutional researchers tend to have varying needs for data analysis, and people who becomeinstitutional researchers also tend to have varying levels of statistical education or training.Fortunately, the market for statistical software is strong enough to support at least three majorproducts by different vendors. In a recent software review by Acock, we get an understanding ofhow three major products (SAS, Stata, and SPSS) differ, and these observations should helpinstitutional researchers (or their offices) select the appropriate statistical program. Acock’sobservations include the following, among others:1. “SPSS is all you need if you can minimize complex data management and if you are notgoing to do cutting edge statistical analysis. If you only open a statistical program twicea month, SPSS has clear advantages because it is so much like the familiar Excelspreadsheet.” [p.1095]2. “SAS is a likely choice for a person who manages complex data sets on a continuousbasis. These people will use SAS several hours a day, and the steep learning curve andcomplex command structure are a small price to pay for the extraordinary power. Thechallenging documentation gives them new ideas on things they can do.” [p.1095]3. “Stata is your choice if you want to do cutting edge research but do not have the datamanagement needs that require SAS. Stata is ideal for people who are developing ormodifying statistical procedures…” [p.1095]4. “SAS is especially strong in analysis of variance (ANOVA), the general linear model,and their extensions. Indeed, there are few statistical or graphic tasks that you cannot doin SAS, but often you find that SAS is a long way down the list on ease of use…There islittle danger that most researchers will outgrow the evolving capabilities of SAS…” [pp.1093-4]5. “SPSS…is reasonably strong on ANOVA-related procedures. Looking to the future, it isfair to say that it will be the weakest of the three packages in the scope of statisticalprocedures it offers…An advantage of SPSS over SAS is that SPSS largely abandoned itsmainframe version and revised its syntax to be consistent with a single user…Althoughall three have a menu-driven option, the point and click menus in SPSS are the easiest tolearn…Like SAS, SPSS’s vision has moved away from an academic researchfocus…SPSS seems to invest more of its development in marketing-oriented graphicsthat no academic journal would publish than it invests in developing new procedures fordata analysis…” [p.1094]6. “Statistical analysis using Stata is relatively weak on ANOVA and only adequate onfactor analysis but extraordinary on regression analysis, complex survey designs, limiteddependent variables, epidemiological methods, survival analysis, panel designs, timeseries, and diagnostics…Although Stata has the smallest development team, all theirefforts are focused on the statistical needs of scholars. Looking to the future, Stata mayhave the strongest collection of advanced statistical procedures… Stata has a commandstructure that is simple and consistent…The consistency of Stata is impressive…Userdeveloped procedures can be installed over the Internet without leaving Stata…Thisexpandability of Stata is its special strength…The documentation for Stata is excellent,and the ability to download data sets that are used in the examples in the documentationis very helpful…[p.1094]Few researchers would decide to acquire a primary statistical package solely on the basis of anoverview; they would really want to have some “hands-on” experience with the products as well.But this article should help researchers evaluate some basic qualities of these products before theydecide upon a “test drive” of one or more of them. Alan C. Acock (Oregon State University) hasmore details in his article (“SAS, Stata, SPSS: A Comparison”) in the peer-reviewed Journal ofMarriage and Family (the November 2005 issue or Vol.67, pp. 1093-1095).[Abstract done by Willard Hom, Director, Research & Planning Unit, System Office, California Community Colleges, 04/01/06]Additional abstracts of research can be viewed at our website at:

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