PSPP: A Basic Tutorial

NEW: 2020

Text file - download and save in MS Word format.
Data File - download and save in SPSS system file format. (PSPP can read this format.)


PSPP is a statistical analysis program made available at no charge to users by the Free Software Foundation. There are two versions: the “syntax” version and the less comprehensive but more user-friendly GUI (Graphic User Interface) version. This tutorial, written primarily for beginning students, describes the GUI version.

PSPP is similar to SPSS. SPSS (officially IBM SPSS Statistics) has, through many iterations and over many years, served as a widely used standard for analyzing quantitative data. The name “SPSS” originally stood for “Statistical Package for the Social Sciences.” So successful was it, that it was widely adopted in business and other fields outside social science. Eventually it became known simply by its initials (just as many people refer to “IBM” without knowing, or caring, that these initials originally referred to “International Business Machines.”)

The authors of this tutorial have used SPSS in their teaching and research, and continue to consider it extremely useful. It has become increasingly so for undergraduate instruction as, over time, it has become much more user-friendly, so that even students with no background in statistical analysis can master it as part of a single introductory research methods or statistics course. It has also added more and more features, notably including the ability to produce a wide range of graphs.

Despite its many advantages, one thing that SPSS is not is free. As of this writing, the cost of a base subscription to SPSS starts at $99 per month! This need not trouble you if you are a student at a college or university that has purchased a site license. Even if this is not the case, you can obtain a special version available only to faculty and students at a deep discount. But still not free. (Check or other vendors for details.)

In this tutorial, we’ll be using a subset of the 2018 General Social Survey (GSS) for use in conjunction with the software. The GSS is a biannual national survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, and used for teaching and research in a variety of disciplines since 1972. We’ve created a subset of the 2018 survey. A version that can be read by PSPP can be downloaded here.

Table of Contents

Note: The manuscript is available in MS Word . You can use your browser to download it. 

  • Chapter 1 – Introduction
  • Chapter 2 – Creating, Saving, and Opening Data Files
  • Chapter 3 – Transforming Data
  • Chapter 4 – Univariate Analysis
  • Chapter 5 – Comparing Means
  • Chapter 6 – Crosstabulation
  • Chapter 7 – Correlation and Regression
  • Chapter 8 – Writing Research Reports
  • Appendix A – Codebook for data used in this tutorial
  • Appendix B – Working with PSPP

Other Resources

For another tutorial on the Graphic User Interface (GUI) version of PSPP, see Gary Fisk, PSPP for Beginners

The Free Software Foundation, creators of PSPP, has produced a comprehensive users’guide for the command (syntax) version of PSPP. Available in various formats.

The GUI version of PSPP is perhaps most limited in its very minimal coverage of graphics, offering only pie charts, bar charts, histograms, and scatterplots, and these only with very few options. Fortunately, another package, also freely available, is Statistics Open for All (SOFA), which includes much more extensive graphics capabilities. George Self has developed a comprehensive lab manual for this package. Designed for use by his own students, he has not as yet published it on the Internet. He has, however, generously granted us permission to post it here on the site of the Cal State University Social Science Research and Instructional Center. He has copyrighted his manual under the Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license,” which is even more open than the “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license” which, except where noted, governs the rest of the SSRIC site.

About the Authors

Edited by Ed Nelson (Sociology, California State University Fresno; and John Korey (Political Science, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; Ed is the primary author of Chapters 2 through 5, and Chapter 8. John is the primary author of Chapters 6 and 7.

© The Authors, 2020; Last Modified April 17, 2020.