September 23, 2013
Comma-separated values (CSV), and its close relatives (e.g., Tab-separated values) play a very important role in open access science. CSV is an informally-defined file format that stores tabular data (think spreadsheets) in plain text. Within the file, each row contains a record, and each field in that record is separated by a comma, tab, or some other character. This format offers several significant advantages. Because they are plain text, these files can be easily read and edited without the need for specialized or proprietary software. CSVs are also version-independent, so ten years down the road you won’t have to track down some ancient piece of software in order to revisit your data (or do the same for someone else’s data). Support for CSV files is built into most data analysis software, programming languages, and online services (see Some Useful Resources at the end of this article for links for your software of choice).