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Microsoft Access 101

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Question: I am building a Microsoft Access database, but I don’t know where to start?  I know what I want to do, but I don’t know how to begin. - Angela Thomas


When I went to the technical college for additional database training (Access), one of the things we learned was how to set up a database. First, you need to figure out the data you want to capture in your database. Access uses multiple tables with linking fields, so the next step will be to sort the information into groups. These groups will become your tables. From there, you can query, report, whatever you want. Good luck!

Get a copy of the Access Bible - many in our office swear by it!! (Excel has one too!

When creating your database, think about how you are going to use the information. This will help you determine what you need to capture and in what fields.

I think the easiest way to start is to use a built-in template (they have them for contact management, billing & time, ledger, event management and many more). You can always add to it later.

Access can be frustratingly difficult at times, but if you are planning to track a reasonable amount of information, stick with it and you'll ultimately be happy with it.

Before you start, you need to have a clear view of the information going in and the information and reporting you want to get out. Then you can determine the structure of the database. If you have never used a relational database before, you should read a little about how they work. This will simplify the design and smooth out problems later.

After planning, then you can begin to build the database. Test it with some small set of data to see if it works the way you want. Revise if necessary.

Although Access comes with a Wizard program that will set up a database for you without your having to think about it, I have often found that the canned structures it uses leave out many of the critical components that I need. Be cautious if you use the wizard to do it for you.

Hi Angela,

Are you familiar with MS Access? If not, my suggestion is to first take a class. MS Access is a great tool, but can be frustrating if you don't know how to use it properly. If you've already taken a class, the first step is to import your data. From there you'll create queries to pull out the data you want to display in the report.

Additionally, utilize Microsoft Office Online>>Help and How-to.

Good luck! Kim - Sr. Admin. Asst. 15+ yrs.

Access is way too complicated for the average user.

Microsoft should redesign it so that any moron (like myself) can use it. It could be very useful if it wasn't so hard to figure out. I DID take a class but it didn't do me any good. I have NO problem with any of the other Microsoft Office apps - except this one.


Flunked Algebra

Honestly? I hate Access and would use Excel if at all possible. Excel has a lot of database features that are very useful.

However, if the info is just too complicated and you've got to go with Access, I'd recommend reading up on it.

Whenever I'm going to create a database, the first thing I do is create a list of ALL the information I can imagine wanting from that database.

I use my database to list all my department's employees names and addresses; their birthday; their phone numbers; driver's license; training classes they've taken, etc. Remember when you're doing something like names you can either have first and last in a separate field or together in one field. But think about how you're going to sort the info. If you're using one field make sure you put the last name first or you end up with Amanda Smith at the beginning of the alaphabet. (Smith,Amanda)

In my opinion there is no such thing as too much information in a database. Queries allow you to narrow the report to just the info you need at any given time.


I was thinking about using Access & checked with our IT department. I was told they don't recommend using Access because it corrupts too easily & I should continue to use Excel for my database.
I had used Access many years ago & it did corrupt & I lost every single piece of information I'd input.

I use Acess extensively to track data. I start with the end in mind - how do I want to look at/extract data. The Access Bible is a fantastic book to learn the program, it uses Access as designed by MS versus through visual basic. I start with making tables and enter a couple of records each to see if that's how I want to set up the DB, that way if I need to alter a table or join it's not a big deal. After the database is set up, I like to use switchplates for my team members to make it easy point/click for data.

I'm not knocking Access ... it is a very powerful program but it is advanced and difficult if you don't have a programming background. I do and it is still difficult.

While Excel has some basic database functions, they are just that, BASIC.

I don't know what your database is supposed to track but I suggest looking into FILEMAKER ( It has been around since the mid-80s. I have used it for a simple address database to complicated travel billing approval/coding and payroll databases since about 1987 and have never lost any data. It is extremely easy to set up and get running. You can import/export to Excel, do calculations, establish look-up and archive files, and get just about as complicated as you can imagine. Anything Access can do, FILEMAKER can do better! And, you can make changes to a report or any screen on the fly! You can also add different levels of password security. I urge you to check out the free trial offer @

EXCEL is the best way to do a database. I keep one that dates back to 1997-present & have never had any problems with it. It is easy to use, & easy to fix if you make a mistake.

Angela, if you could tell us more about the information you'd like to keep in the database and how you'd be using it, we could give you more specific advice.

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