A Beginners Tableau Tutorial: How to Get Started

Are you thinking of getting started with Tableau? Maybe people at your organization have already been using Tableau and you’ve recently been encouraged to get on board. Or perhaps you are looking to upskill after seeing that Tableau is a required or recommended skill for many job listings? 

I remember when I first learned about Tableau. It was the fall of 2016 and I was taking a class that included short demos of different data visualization software. Right away I remember thinking that Tableau looked pretty slick! 

But I didn’t start working with Tableau that day or even that year! We weren’t using Tableau at my then job, so I simply relied on Excel to analyze our data and create some quick charts.

At that point in my career, I initially feared that the cost to get started in Tableau was a lot higher than it actually was. Thankfully I discovered that it doesn’t cost a penny nor take that much time either.

If you are new to Tableau, you may be interested our watching our Introduction to Tableau webinar below to learn how to get started. This webinar walks you through those initial steps of opening Tableau and connecting to a new data source. We will also show you how to build out a variety of charts and combine them together into a dashboard. I’ve published the workbook from the webinar and you can download it here.  

Sometimes it can be a bit intimidating to try something new. The good news is that you can try Tableau for free. Below this webinar I’ve listed some resources and tips to consider as you are first getting started.

Tip #1: Try out Tableau for free by installing Tableau Public. 

If you just want to test drive Tableau without having a paid Tableau Desktop license, then you can use Tableau Public completely for free.

Go to https://public.tableau.com/en-us/s/ and click on Download the App. There are both Windows and Mac versions.

Tableau Public Homepage

The Tableau Public App that you install looks and feels just like the paid Tableau Desktop version of the tool. The Tableau Public app will enable you to connect to data, start building out charts and dashboards, and ultimately familiarize yourself with many of Tableau’s features. 

Keep in mind that if you use Tableau Public to develop your work, then you will not be able to save your work locally. To save a copy of your work, you will need to publish it to the Tableau Public server. 

You can hide your work after publishing it to Tableau Public, but we recommend that you do not publish private or sensitive data to the Tableau Public server.

Tip #2: Use free and publicly-available datasets to test out Tableau.

It may be helpful to first get started with Tableau by using publicly-available datasets that are relatively clean and well-structured. You can also publish this data publicly to the Tableau Public server.

To access the available datasets, first go to the Resources tab on the Tableau Public site.

Resources Tab

Then select the Sample Data tab. You will see dozens of datasets across a wide variety of categories including sports, education, government, lifestyle, health, entertainment, and business. 

Most of the datasets will be in either a .csv and .xlsx format. Click on the Dataset link to download the file.

List of Resources

If you scroll to the bottom of that page you will see additional links for Data Sources.

More Data Sources

Tip #3: Select the correct connection type from the Connect panel. 

When you first open Tableau Public (or its counterpart — the paid version called Tableau Desktop) you will see the Connect panel. The panel has many different connection types, including Microsoft Excel and Text File.

If you are working with a .csv file (or .txt file) then select the Text File connection type. If you are working with a .xls or .xlsx file then select the Microsoft Excel connection type.

Connect Page

I previously downloaded a tour_de_france.xlsx file from the Sample Data tab. This is an Excel file so I will select the Microsoft Excel connection type. After I select that connection type I will see and be able to select the tour_de_france.xlsx file from my list of downloads.

Notice how there are no .csv files being shown in this downloads list. Depending on your machine, the .csv files may appear in the list but instead be greyed out. I need to select the Text file connection type in order to connect to .csv or .txt file types.

As a side note, you will notice that the Connect panel has a section called Saved Data Sources. These include demo datasets that come with Tableau. The Sample – Superstore dataset represents data from an office supply store and it is very often used in Tableau tutorials. This dataset is useful to use while getting familiar with Tableau because it is clean, well-structured, and has many different types of data (e.g., alphanumeric, numeric, dates, geographic). You can select this data source right from the Connect page.

Tip #4: Pay attention to the data type of the fields and make changes if needed

There are a variety of different data types in Tableau. These include alphanumeric (known as a string data type), numeric, dates, and geographic data. Each field in the data has an icon next to its name that represents its data type.

String data, such as the Winner name, has an Abc icon. Entrants is a numeric data type and has a pound sign (#) icon. Start date is a date data type and that is represented by a calendar icon. Finally, the Starting city is a geographic data type and that is represented by a globe icon.

Data Types

Tableau’s software will make its best guess as to what type of data each field is representing. However, sometimes Tableau is wrong. Fortunately, you can change the data type here on the Data Source view.

For example, Tableau defined the Year field as a number data type, but that field would be better represented as a date or string data type. To change the data type, I can click on the # icon and then select Date in the menu. Notice how changing the field to a date data type then changes the year value to 1/1/yyyy.

Changing the data type

After making this change I can click on Sheet 1 and start building out my charts and dashboards. 

Note that you will see the same data type icons next to the field names in the left pane of Sheet 1. The data type can also be changed here. 

Select Sheet 1

Are you interested in learning more? 

Hopefully these tips have been helpful to you as you begin learning Tableau. 

If you are interested in diving deeper into learning Tableau, we offer a variety of Tableau training on Data Coach, our premium analytics training platform. You can browse through our variety of courses and subscription plans at https://learning.datacoach.com/learn.

Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions by emailing me at alicia.bembenek@tessellationconsulting.com or connecting with me on Twitter @dreamsofdata.

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