6 reasons to choose Access over Excel for data management


by Christine Spencer


Microsoft Access 2003/2007/2010/2013/2016

Operating System:

Microsoft Windows

When it comes to dealing with lists of data, most people think of two choices: a database or a spreadsheet, such as Access and Excel. Both have their pros and cons, but using the wrong one can cost you days of wasted time and unnecessary frustration. Knowing which tool to use to manage your data will save you time and help to restore your patience.

To get the most out of the Access database, we’ll:

  • Reveal the advantages and disadvantages of spreadsheets.
  • Tell you the perks of managing data in a database so you can be most efficient.

Data is a valuable commodity. But it has little value if you can’t get the information you need in a form you can use. Many factors determine how you store and retrieve data. However, if you’re using the right tool, printing a list of all customers from Nevada or finding out which are the top 10 selling products shouldn’t be too difficult. We’ll show you how to manage your data so that it’s most efficient.

Understand database terminology

Before we discuss the specifics of what a database can do, you’ll need to understand certain terms. A database uses several different objects to store and display data, as shown in Figure A. Tables store the raw data in records made up of fields and values. Queries retrieve a set of table records that match a certain criteria. Forms provide a user-friendly interface to enter data into tables. Reports provide a printout of grouped and sorted data.



The Access database uses four ways to store data with tables, queries, forms and reports.

Advantages and disadvantages of spreadsheets

Probably the number-one reason people use a spreadsheet application to store records is the comfort factor. They’re used to using Excel and the structure of the data makes sense to them. They already know how to arrange and enter data in a spreadsheet, as well as how to include charts right in the sheets. And, if you perform many calculations with your data, a spreadsheet can certainly do the number crunching very well.

Even though spreadsheets are initially easier to set up than a relational database, cutting corners at the beginning might mean trouble down the road as your database grows. For instance, suppose you keep track of your insurance policy sales in a spreadsheet. Depending on how the spreadsheet is set up, you might need to enter the same data on several sheets, such as a client’s address. This means there’s a greater opportunity for mistakes and inaccurate entries—not to mention the time it takes to update the duplicate data with changes.

In addition to hassles with data entry, retrieving data from several sheets is also an obstacle. Suppose you keep each type of insurance policy on a different sheet in a notebook or even in different notebooks. If you needed a consolidated list of one customer’s policies, getting all that information together accurately becomes quite difficult.

Advantages to managing records with a database

When you start working with hundreds of records, you’ll notice the advantages of using a database application. The benefits of using a database consist of more than just ways to manipulate data. You’ll have to take into account hardware speed as w[...]

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