And with that, you’re on your way to becoming a Tableau Jedi.
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What other tool has its own built-in date dimension? (That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement) But it isn’t dates or using dates in Tableau that drives me nuts. It’s the way people have been taught to think of dates in Tableau. Consider the following: Here’s what I think when I see that: To say dimensions are discrete and measures are continuous is a simplification. Consider this view: Not only can I see the number of habitable planets for the Klingons, Romulans, and Federation, but I can also quickly see a count of Neutral Zone Violations as headers in front of the bars. And just like almost any field, we can use it in the view as a dimension or a measure.
What other tool allows you to connect to a data source with dates and have a built-in hierarchy where you can move different parts of the hierarchy around in the view? Here’s the issue: in an attempt to keep things simple in explanation, accuracy was sacrificed. It might appear to be helpful, but really lays a poor foundation of understanding that will limit people from moving forward. When you right-click a date field in the view in Tableau, or use the drop-down you’ll get a menu like this: Now admittedly, this is a long list and it might be intimidating at first. There’s: We’ll skip the standard options and merely mention, for now, that Show Missing Values is simply a way of telling Tableau to include missing dates in a visualization so you can see gaps in time where there is no data.
It drives me nuts, because ultimately it drives them nuts and they get frustrated and complain and think Tableau is hard and needlessly complex. And we can use it as discrete (blue) or continuous (green). Date parts are just the individual parts of a date – all by themselves. If I had selected the Date Part of Day then I would have a bar chart of every day (1 of a Month: November 8, 1980; December 8, 2015; February 8, 2025. So take that date and assume it has time included: November 8, 1980 am Depending on what level of detail you select you’ll get a value that is truncated (lower levels of details getting cut off). Not much to say, except that this is the exact date value in the data. Just the exact date to whatever precision the data contains (including time if applicable).
But it’s not Tableau – it’s the way they’ve been taught or the way they’ve made assumptions. The two primary sections that need to be understood are the two sections of dates. So a date of November 8, 1980 could be broken down into individual parts: And when I use just one of those parts as a dimension in a viz, then I’m telling Tableau, “Aggregate all the measures at the level of that date part.” So, for example, when I put a Date on Columns and then select the Date Part of Month, I might get a view like this: I’m telling Tableau, give me the SUM of sales for each Month (as a date part). Now, some people have been taught to refer to Date Parts as “Discrete Dates”. Let’s rearrange the date and pretend we’re building a bar chart so we can see it better: Year Month Day Hour Minute Second 1980 November 8 05 46 00 Again, some people have been taught that these are “continuous dates.” They are not. This one can also be either discrete or continuous (it is continuous by default).
…at least not if you take some time to understand and use careful, precise terminology.
But let’s also keep it accurate: Discrete (blue) fields in action: Continuous (green) fields in action: There’s some complexity we could dive into.