Manipulating ASCII Data Files
There are often occasions when you want to look at, or manipulate an ASCII
- To get a quick look at the data, to see what it is like and
evaluate whether you can use it.
- To fix problems so you can use the file in Matlab.
Always keep a copy of the data file in case you make a mistake.
You will have to decide if the data is delimited (commas or tabs are most
common, with tabs tricky to recognize), or fixed width. The import wizards
in Excel and Matlab do a good job of figuring this out.
Problems you might have to address:
- The data file uses a letter, such as "T" for a trace of snow. When
all the other lines have an actual number, you will have problems. You
might solve this by replacing the "T" with a tiny number (say "0.0001")
which will work for most things you might want to do, but you have to think
about what you are going to do with the data to insure that is a workable
- There are columns with text, which will limit your options in Matlab
(such as not being able to import into vectors). You could change
those to a number and ignore them, delete the column if you don't need it,
or make two separate data files, one with the text and one with the numbers,
and import them separately, or finally figure out alternatives in Matlab for
the mixed file.
- There are extra lines at the beginning and end of the file.
- The column headers have more than two lines, and you have to get a
- There are black lines every 5th or 10th line in the file, put in for
You have several options to edit the file:
- Notepad or Wordpad
- These behave almost identically (word wrap on long lines is probably
the only significant difference).
- Little risk of saving in an incorrect format.
- Global search and replace can be slow
- If you delete a column, you also have to delete the comma that
separates it, and the header.
- Must insure you do not save in Word format.
- Global search and replace is fast
- Can global search and replace for tabs (^t) and paragraph marks
- Global search and replace is fast, and if you select just a column,
you can operate just in that column and not worry about making changes
elsewhere you do not want to.
- Always save in CSV format, with .csv or .txt extension.
- If you are sure you do not need a column of data, you can remove it.
last revised 1/19/2016