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One frequently asked question for beginners in Excel is what is a delimiter? A CSV, or comma separated values file, uses the delimiter of “comma.” Simply put, a delimiter is “one or more characters that separate text strings”. It could be a comma, pipe character, colon, semi-colon or any number of other characters used for separating two parts of a text string.

Examples:

311-555-1234 - A Dash is the delimiter separating the parts of a telephone number
abc,def,ghi - A comma is the delimiter separating the letter groups
peterson;johnson;smith - A semi colon is separating last names

Why are Delimiters important?

In addition to providing context to the name of a CSV file, the use of delimiters to parse, combine, and match strings is very common in Excel and in programming languages. Often times files are exported with dozens or hundreds of rows of data delimited by a specific character. This helps to speed up transfer/download times of these files. If you’re interested at all in learning programming (R, Python, etc), its a crucial term to understand.

Below is a file I’ve opened with Excel, only to find all of the data I exported is in column A with a pipe delimiter in between all parts of our data. Using a feature in Excel called Text to Columns, I can parse this data in seconds to get it ready to analyze.

Before:

what is a delimiter

After:

text to columns

Credit for definition: Computerhope.com


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