Tableau is a software company that makes a suite of software for creating and publishing data visualizations including Tableau Public, Tableau Desktop, Tableau Server, and Tableau Prep. (Tableau Public and Tableau Desktop are the core free and paid versions, respectively, so we will focus on them here.)

Tableau Public/Desktop share some similarities with Microsoft Excel. They are fully-featured software that allow you to import data and apply a number of different transformations to that data, and eventually create a number of different visualizations. But while Excel is limited to the metaphor of a spreadsheet and a relatively simple set of charts, Tableau is capable of complex data modeling and a wide variety of visualization outputs. These include graphs, plots, maps, etc. Furthermore, Tableau can compose multiple visualizations together and add interactive elements like filters, point-and-click functionality, etc. You may wish to produce static images at the end of your analysis, or perhaps interactive web elements.

Tableau Desktop

screenshot of tableau desktop softwareFigure 1: Assembling a worksheet in Tableau Desktop. Tableau uses a drag-and-drop interface that allows you to encode variables (represented primarily as Attributes and Measures) as position, color, labels, etc. This allows for experimentation and revision relatively quickly.

How to Access Tableau Desktop at Cornell

Tableau Public is a free version of the Tableau platform. All computers at CU Library come pre-installed with Tableua Public. However, this version is limited. To save your work, you must upload visualizations to Tableau's cloud-based Tableau Public service.

If you wish to prevent data from being public and freely accessible (e.g. you have sensitive information in your data, or you'd like more control of your research data), you will likely want to use the full-featured Tableau Desktop software.

Cornell University students and instructors: We have access to free yearly licenses for the full Tableau Desktop software! To gain access, follow this link for instructions. The process usually takes ~2 business days.


Where Can I Learn More?

If you would like to find a sample data set to use as you learn, take a look at the Further Resources page.

The Digital CoLab in Olin Library offers a regular workshop series that includes an introduction to Visualization using Tableau. We also have drop-in open lab hours that you can receive help for a Tableau project, and also librarians you can reach out to for one-on-one training and research consultations.

Here is a step-by-step tutorial for using Tableau Public (will apply to Tablaeu Desktop as well).

Visualization workshops are also offered elsewhere on campus. To learn more, follow the Research Data Management Service Group (RDMSG) for workshop listings. You can also reach out to the RDMSG Consultants for further questions.

Tableau hosts a collection of learning materials including video tutorials, sample data, etc. For instance, take a look at their excellent Viz of the Day feature.