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Plan your database


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plan your database

A database is a collection of data that is organized using a consistent structure. An address book is a database, for example. You have entries for many different people, but you collect the same information about each person: name, address, phone number, and so on.

In a database, each type of information, like ZIP Code, is a field. The complete entry for a certain person is a record. When you put a database in Excel, the field names appear in the top row and all records appear beneath them, as shown in Figure 6-1.

Figure 6-1: A simple database in Excel.

If you're going to use your data in some other program, such as a source for a mail merge in Word, make sure you put the field names in row 1. Don't leave blank lines at the top. Otherwise, the program could get confused when importing your data.

Excel's database capability is limited to the creation of simple flat-file databases. A flat-file database consists of a single, two-dimensional table, like the one in Figure 6-1. If you need a multitable database where the tables are joined together (that is, a relational database), look at a program like Microsoft Access instead.

To start your database, simply enter some field names in row 1. You may want to format them in a special way, as in Figure 6-1, to help you keep that row separated from the data rows that will follow.

As you're figuring out what field names to use, keep these rules in mind:

  • Separate all data that you can ever imagine wanting to sort or filter by. For example, if you think you might ever want to sort the list by last name, make sure you create separate fields for first and last names.
  • Try to keep field names to a single word with no spaces. If you must have multiple words, separate them by capitalizing the first letter of each word, like this: LastName. If you don't like that, use the underscore character for the separator, like this: Last_Name. The reason to avoid spaces in the field names is that if you ever import the data into some other program, or want to write macros or VBA (Visual BASIC for Applications) code that references the fields, you might have problems with spaces in the names.

Ready to create the database? Start typing into the cells.

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