Attention to Detail | Blog Post 3

Nowadays, most people have “attention to detail” written somewhere on their resume. It’s regarded as a basic skill someone needs to have in order to be considered for a job, like “communication” or Microsoft Office. However, some positions definitely value it more than others, and big data is one of the fields where it is the most vital. My most recent work assignment involves the “codebook,” which is a large Excel sheet where we take information from more than 25,000 rows of cells of American Community Survey data and make that data usable for statistical analysis and understanding.

The codebook is worked on collaboratively by me and other members of the office and every single cell in it needs to be standardized between all of us. Certain things like race or gender need to capitalized while other markers may not be, and certain stipulations are necessary to ensure accuracy, like how the data on poverty is for the past 12 months before the survey was conducted. Additionally in the ACS data, each individual variable has a table identification number and its own line number, and each input in the codebook has to be correct to ensure the measures represent the desired data. We also create calculations to make new measures not included in the original data and to find percentages for certain populations.

This process requires checking, re-checking, and peer-reviewing until we are certain that the codebook is accurate. If anything is wrong then the measures will erroneously represent the intended variable, and in some cases the calculations may not work at all since the calculations are run as automatic scripts to find the actual numbers for each measure. Quantitative data requires great care to ensure its accuracy. Luckily I have always been a bit of a perfectionist, so this kind of work is perfect for me and my eye for “attention to detail” (which really is a skill I have highlighted at the top of my resume). I just reviewed someone else’s work as my first codebook assignment and I’m still waiting to hear back from another reviewer on my corrections, so I’m hoping my “attention to detail” has served me well so far at this job.


I'm currently a Research Assistant for the Social Science Data Analysis Network, an office within the Population Studies Center, which is a division of the Institute for Social Research here at the University of Michigan.

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