Spreadsheet bibliography

Title A critical review of the literature on spreadsheet errors
Authors Stephen G. Powell, Kenneth R. Baker, & Barry Lawson
Year 2008
Type Article
Publication Decision Support Systems
Series Volume 46, Number 1, pages 128-138

Among those who study spreadsheet use, it is widely accepted that errors are prevalent in operational spreadsheets and that errors can lead to poor decisions and cost millions of dollars.

However, relatively little is known about what types of errors actually occur, how they were created, how they can be detected, and how they can be avoided or minimized.

This paper summarizes and critiques the research literature on spreadsheet errors from the viewpoint of a manager who wishes to improve operational spreadsheet quality.

We also offer suggestions for future research directions that can improve the state of knowledge about spreadsheet errors and mitigate spreadsheet risks.

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Aids for spreadsheet accuracy

Experimental results show that all three of the following aids improve performance and reduce errors.

Planning and design aids:

  • Use a planned layout so that movement of the data after entering will be minimized.
  • Use an organized layout to isolate data and computation areas.
  • Use descriptive labels.
  • Repeat the input data near the output.

Formula complexity aids:

  • Formulas should contain only cell references.
  • Formulas can be used to repeat data in other locations.
  • Split complex formulas.
  • Relative and absolute cell addressing should be used where appropriate.

Test and debugging aids:

  • Use Excel's auditing tools to verify formulas.
  • Review worksheet for error messages.
  • Determine if the numbers look reasonable.
  • Verify all calculations with a calculator or test with known models.