Comma Separated Values is a simple format for displaying numeric and textual tabular data. Although there are different standards in circulation and are used, the strict form is described in RFC4180.
In a CSV file, the separate values / cells from a table are separated from each other with a comma as the separator. The data is stored in plain text, meaning that interpretation of the data is not dependent on a specific application. CSV files can be read into database applications, but can also be opened clearly and quickly as a spreadsheet, for example in Microsoft Excel. These files can also be read as text files, for example in Notepad. The format is frequently used by statistical programming languages such as R and as data carriers in interactive computing environments such as Jupyter Notebooks.
MsExcel sheets and MsAccess tables can be saved as CSV from within the application. You can make use of an Access-form prepared by DANS: download here, the download includes a readme with information about the use of this tool.
CSV is a handy format for data exchange. Any additional information necessary to interpret the data needs to be given in an accompanying document. The latter is especially important when it comes to long-term preservation. A description of columns, the meaning of codes and variables which are used in the data, the data type used in different fields and the wider context of the data is then indispensable.
Many applications will be able to open CSV files without problems. However, depending on the default settings on the computer for using separator characters, a program may not automatically separate the columns from each other. In the application, columns can be further split based on separators; the default setting on the computer can be adjusted if necessary. For Windows systems, this default setting is under “Decimal separator” / “List separator” in the “Country and Language” / “Region and Language” control panel. If there is a comma as a separator here, the CSV files will be displayed correctly in separate columns in all applications.
CSV is a preferred format for Spreadsheets and for Database tables.