Microsoft Access can be overwhelming for new users, especially if you have limited experience with databases. Let’s walk through the major components in Access and learn about how they fit together to create a usable database application.
Tables – Tables are the foundation of a database. You can think of tables like a set of spreadsheets that are linked together to store data. Without data in tables, your database won’t really do much. It’s important to understand that unlike a spreadsheet, the data in your database will probably be broken across a number of tables. Search for information about data normalization to understand how to design tables. A sample table in Microsoft Access looks very similar to a spreadsheet:
Forms – Tables are the only component required to have a working Access database, but if you’re doing any data entry, forms can make your life much easier. Forms serve as a front end for tables, allowing you to view, edit, and create one record at a time. Forms can be much more user friendly for end users and you can add in validation and formatting features to ensure that users enter appropriate data. Access will create forms automatically, so it’s simple to get a basic form up and running. See below for the form Access created for the data in our Customers table:
Reports – Reports in Access are similar to forms in that they display table data in a user-friendly manner. Reports are nice when you need a printed version of data or when you only want to display certain information. Access reports are a little more complicated to create than forms. The Access “Report Wizard” will walk you through the steps and then create the report based on the criteria you specify.
Queries – Queries give you the ability to analyze your data. Queries are a subset of one of more database tables with the option to filter and sort records in various ways. For example, if you want to know which of your customers live in a particular state, you can create an Access query to return that information. Access provides the “Query Wizard” to walk you through choosing the fields and criteria for your query. Keep in mind that you can include more than one table in a query, making them an excellent tool for combining your data in different ways.
Macros – Macros use a set of commands to automate certain tasks or processes in your database. For example, you can use macros to open forms, reports, and queries. You will want to be very comfortable with the other components of Access before you begin using macros.
Modules – Access modules allow you to write Visual Basic code to manipulate your database. Whereas macros offer a pre-defined set of commands, you can do just about anything in modules. Of course, you’ll need a solid understanding of computer programming to use these effectively.
Microsoft Access is intimidating to many Office users, but developing a basic understanding of the primary components is an important step in learning to use the software and should prepare you to jump in and build your first database.