The other day I needed to do some probability calculations without the usual technology on hand -- no computer, smart phone, or calculator. It was a great reminder of just how much I appreciate tools that make the work of analyzing data easier and faster.

Anyone who's taken a statistics class that required you to do all calculations by hand recognizes the truth of a statement that someone posted on our Facebook page recently:

"Minitab makes difficult things really, really easy!"

That idea was the spark behind the first version of Minitab Statistical Software in 1972. The goal was to help students in statistics classes spend less time doing calculations by hand, and more time understanding the meaning of their analyses. Minitab's come a long way, but that dedication to making data analysis easier to do and understand remains constant.

To commemorate my recent visit to the land of doing things "by hand," I thought I'd share five of my favorite Minitab features.  These are tools that I use all the time, and that sure make my life easier.  Each link below will take you to a short how-to that tells you more about the feature and how to use it.

1. Help and StatGuide. Let's face it, most people aren't constantly immersed in data analysis. Even if you were an "A" student in statistics, it's all too easy to forget what you've learned if you don't use it. When I get stuck on something, Minitab's built-in Help tells me what I need to know, especially the invaluable StatGuide.  When I'm not sure what the analysis means, I can just right-click the output and choose StatGuide to learn what each piece of output is and how to interpret it.

2. Data Tools. When you're gathering data from different sources, at different times, and facing other challenges, you can't always control the way your data are collected. That can make analysis a challenge. Take a look in the Data menu for a multitude of tools to sort, stack, and order your data in a way that you find logical and easy to use.

3. Automatic Graph Updates.  Collect data. Run analysis. Make graph. Add data.  Run analysis.  Make updated graph.  Collect more new data.  Run analysis.  Make another version of graph.  Sound familiar?  If you need to create the same graph or control chart regularly, a single click can update your graph automatically every time your data sheet changes.

4. Customized Menus and Toolbars. Want easy access to the analysis tools and methods you use the most?  You've got it: just make a custom menu or toolbar.  It only takes a minute, and you can modify your toolbars as often as you want if your needs change. It can be a real time-saver to have your four or five most frequently used tools grouped together.

5. Effortless Project Organization. Hey, I'm no neat freak. I've got a big pile of books near my bedstand, a big pile of CDs near my player, and when I'm working on a project that involves statistical analysis, I usually end up with a lot of output, and a big collection of data and graphs. Fortunately, Minitab’s Project Manager automatically organizes the pieces of my project so it's easy to find what I need when I need it. I can even use the Project Manager to create a report without leaving Minitab!

What tools do you appreciate most in the statistical software you use?