How to Read a CSV File

By Nick Davis

Comma Separated Value (CSV) files are used to exchange data between applications on different platforms and in different programs. The format is used in Microsoft Excel as well as in other spreadsheet applications, including OpenOffice. CSV files are also a legacy format---a format used during the early days of computing when mainframes and minicomputers were the norm. CSV files are easily opened and read using Microsoft Excel, if using Windows or Mac, or with a text editor.

Reading a CSV File--Microsoft Excel

Step 1

Click on the Microsoft Excel icon on your computer's desktop to open the program or by clicking on the program's name in the "All Programs" menu if using Windows. If using a Mac, click on the Excel icon in the Applications folder of your Mac's hard drive.

Step 2

Click on "Data" then "Get External Data."

Step 3

Click on "Import Text File." The Import Text File wizard will open.

Step 4

Click on "Files of Type." Select "All Files."

Step 5

Navigate to the directory containing the CSV file you want to open. Double-click on the file's name to start the importing process.

Step 6

Verify that "Delimited" is selected. If using a Mac, click on the "File Origin" and change it to "Macintosh."

Step 7

Click on "Next."

Step 8

Click on the circle next to "Tab" to uncheck the Tab selection.

Step 9

Click on the circle next to "Comma." A preview of the contents of your CSV file will appear in the "Preview" window. You can scroll through the file's contents if desired.

Step 10

Click on "Next."

Step 11

Click on the column that contains the "Object Ids." Click on "Text." Excel will now process the first column as text and keep the CSV file's data from being unreadable. Leave the other columns as "General."

Step 12

Click on "Finish."

Step 13

Click in the "A1" column of the blank Excel worksheet to paste CSV data into the blank Excel worksheet.

Step 14

Click on "OK." The contents of the CSV file will appear in the blank Excel worksheet.

Reading a CSV File--Text Editor

Step 1

Click on "Start" then "My Computer." Navigate to the directory containing the CSV file you want to read. If using Mac, click on your Mac's Hard Drive icon and navigate to the CSV file.

Step 2

Right-click on the CSV file's name. Select "Rename" if using Windows. If using a Mac, click once on the file's name and hold the mouse button down until the file's name is highlighted.

Step 3

Change the extension of the file's name to ".txt". Press "Enter" or "Return" on your computer's keyboard.

Step 4

Open your computer's text editor, Notepad or similar program.

Step 5

Click on "File" then "Open."

Step 6

Navigate to the directory containing the renamed CSV file. Double-click on the file's name to open it.

Tips & Warnings

  • Once the CSV file is open, you can save it in another format, print the file or use it within another file if desired.