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Alan Hall, Michel Wermelinger, Tony Hirst, & Santi Phithakkitnukoon


A spreadsheet is remarkably flexible in representing various forms of structured data, but the individual cells have no knowledge of the larger structures of which they may form a part. This can hamper comprehension and increase formula replication, increasing the risk of error on both scores.

We explore a novel data model (called the "lish") that could form an alternative to the traditional grid in a spreadsheet-like environment. Its aim is to capture some of these higher structures while preserving the simplicity that makes a spreadsheet so attractive.

It is based on cells organised into nested lists, in each of which the user may optionally employ a template to prototype repeating structures. These template elements can be likened to the marginal "cells" in the borders of a traditional worksheet, but are proper members of the sheet and may themselves contain internal structure.

A small demonstration application shows the "lish" in operation.


Lish example
Lish example

The figure shows some rainfall data broken down by quarter, year and city.

The top band of shaded cells is itself a two-dimensional table. Since this band is marginal it contains no actual data but rather acts as a template, forming the base plane for a stack of tables of the same structure.

Hence, we have a three dimensional array of data.


2017, EuSpRIG

Full article

Structuring spreadsheets with the “Lish” data model