Difference between Excel and CSV, when to use it

Data scientists, finance and accounting professionals, bookekkepts, they all use Excel in everyday work. Even freelancers use Excel to manage personal finances and keep track of their spendings. The wide usage and purpose of Excel is well known, especially when it comes to data analysis, data visualization, math functions and finance calculations.

Unlike Excel document format (.xlsx or .xls), CSV format is not so popular and when there is an option to download a report in CSV format or when that format is required, people try to avoid it as much as possible.

The reason for that is that your looks less appealing in CSV format, and you may wonder who to get a nice-looking Excel spreadsheet again.

The truth is, you can easily switch between .xls(x) and .csv format and no need to panic if you find yourself with a document in .csv format.

Before we explain to you how to switch from Excel format to another, let’s see the difference between Excel and CSV.

Excel vs CSV: When to use which format?

CSV file format keeps only plain text in a series of cells that are separated by commas. XLS (Excel spreadsheet) is a binary file which means it keeps different kinds of information, both content and formatting. Additionally, it can keep charts, visuals and other added images.

The advantage of CSV file is that it can be opened and viewed in any text editor, while Excel spreadsheet can be opened only in applications that are specialized to read such formats, applications similar to Microsoft Excel. In other words, you can use CSV files on any operating system and in wide range of applications.

If you need to keep your data and view it everywhere, you should better save your file as CSV. On the other hand, if the formatting is important for your data, don’t use CSV, use XLS (a regular Excel spreadsheet).

Although Excel if far better than CSV when it comes to data visualization and analysis, CSV format still has its purpose, because it is very practical and accessible everywhere.

So, to sum everything up, in these situations you should use CSV file format:

  • When you need to open your file on different computers
  • When the formatting and layout are not important
  • When you need to upload file somewhere

Use Excel spreadsheet (.xls or .xlsx) on all other occasions:

  • To present data visually
  • To create compelling data charts
  • To use Excel functions
  • And any other complex data manipulations

How to Convert Excel to CSV

excel to csv

Luckily, you can have your document in both versions and use one particular file format depending on the situation. For instance, if you have only an Excel document in .xls(x).format you can also save your document in .csv.

  1. Go to File menu and click on Save as.
  2. Choose the location where you will save your file.
  3. Click the green field  “Excel workbook” to open the drop down menu and from the list of formats select CSV. Your file will be saved to CSV.