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Maybe you picked this book up because you already know you want to learn about Access, Microsoft’s user-friendly database for the Windows operating system. Or perhaps you know that you’re drowning in a sea of information and vaguely think that Access might be the answer. Then again, maybe you just liked the cover. Whatever the reason, welcome! We think you’ve come to the right place.

As we said, Access is a database. What does that mean? You’ll learn more in this book, but for now, think of Access as a handy place to store and organize things. You can store almost anything you please in an Access database:

  • Your recipe collection

  • Pictures of your pets

  • The inventory records for your home-based business

  • Birthdays and addresses of friends and relatives

  • The author and title of every book you own

  • Just about anything else you can think of

Databases are used by everyone from grandmothers to major corporations. If you’ve never used a database before, don’t worry. Access is the friendliest and easiest-to-use database on the market today. If you can click a mouse and type, you can use Access.

Some Key Terms

Access runs on the Windows operating system. We’ll be using Microsoft Office Access 2003 (which we’ll just call “Access 2003” in the rest of this book), which runs on Windows 95 or any later version of Windows. We assume that you already know how to start Windows, log in, and use the mouse; from there, we’ll teach you everything else that you need to know to get started.

There are some key terms you should know. Understanding the distinctions between these various actions will help you follow the numerous step-by-step examples in this book on your own computer.

  • Press— By itself, usually refers to a key on the keyboard. When we tell you to press F11, it means to press and release the F11 key on the top row of the keyboard. To press Alt-F, hold down the Alt key and press and release the F key before letting go of the Alt key.

  • Point— Move the mouse on the desk to move the pointer onscreen. The tip of the arrow should be on the item to which you are pointing. To open a menu or an icon, you point to the item you want.

  • Click— Press and release the primary mouse button once. Usually this will be the left mouse button, though if you’re a leftie you may have changed this. You use click to select commands and toolbar buttons, as well as perform other Windows tasks.

  • Double-click— Press and release the primary mouse button twice in rapid succession. Double-clicking opens an icon or launches an action.

  • Right-click— Press and release the right mouse button once. You often right-click to display a shortcut menu.

  • Drag— Hold down the mouse button and drag the pointer across the screen. Release the mouse button. Dragging is most often used for selecting text.

  • Drag and Drop— Point to the item that you want to drag and hold down the primary mouse button. Now you can move the mouse to drag the item around the screen. When you’ve dragged the item to the location where you’d like to drop it, release the mouse button.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

You can personalize many features of Windows so that it is set up the way you like to work. That’s one of the benefits of Windows. For consistency, though, this book makes some assumptions about how you use your computer. When working through steps and especially when viewing the figures in this book, keep in mind the following distinctions:

  • Access provides many ways to perform the same action. For instance, for many commands, you can select a command from a menu, use a shortcut key, use a toolbar button, or use a shortcut menu. Throughout the book, we’ll try to show you the variety of different ways that you can do things in Access. Sometimes we’ll tell you where to find an action on a menu; other times we might have you use the toolbar to perform the same action. As you try things out in Access, you’ll find the methods that work best for you.

  • Your particular Windows setup may not look identical to the one used in the figures in this book. For instance, you might have a different desktop background than the one we used in the book, or be using a different color scheme. Don’t let these differences distract you; Windows may look different, but it works the same way.

  • Your computer setup is most likely different from the one used in the book. Therefore, you will see different programs listed on your Start menu, different folders and documents, and so on. Again, don’t be distracted by the differences.

  • You might even be using a different version of Windows. We used Windows XP throughout this book. If you’re using a different version of Windows, there will be minor differences in appearance, but Access will still function exactly the same way.

The Basic Structure of This Book

This book is divided into five parts, each centered around a certain theme. The book builds on the skills you need, starting with the basics and then moving to more complex topics such as customizing databases or working with other applications. You can read the book straight-through, look up topics when you have a question, or browse through the contents, reading information that intrigues you. We’ve also included many references between chapters to help you find more information.

This section provides a quick breakdown of the parts.

Part I, “Getting to Know Access,” guides you through an exploration of the Access user interface. This part of the book will help you to recognize all the things that you see on screen when Access is running, and to understand what you’ll see in a database. This part covers the use of databases in general (Chapter 1), the Access user interface (Chapter 2), and the Database Window, which is the central starting point of your Access databases (Chapter 3).

Part II, “Building and Using a Database,” contains four chapters. If you read through this part, you’ll learn enough to actually build your own database and to use it for data storage. Topics include planning a database (Chapter 4), creating tables to hold your data (Chapter 5), connecting tables to each other (Chapter 6), and writing queries to extract information from the database (Chapter 7).

Part III, “Putting a Friendly Face on Your Data,” helps you design the user interface for your database. Here you’ll learn about data entry forms (Chapter 8), printed reports (Chapter 9), and Web-based pages (Chapter 10). By the time you reach the end of Chapter 10, you’ll be familiar with all of the major objects that an Access database can contain, and you’ll know how to build each one.

Part IV, “Making Access Work Your Way,” shows you how to fine-tune the objects you’ve already built. You’ll learn about more techniques for tables (Chapter 11), queries (Chapter 12), forms (Chapter 13), and reports (Chapter 14). You might not need this part until you’ve worked with Access for a few weeks or months, but skimming through it might give you some ideas.

Finally, Part V, “Letting Access Do Your Work for You,” covers two topics that will help point the way for further explorations in Access. Chapter 15 discusses automating your Access databases so that the program does repetitive tasks for you. Chapter 16 shows you how to exchange data between Access and a variety of other programs, so that you can make the most of Microsoft Office. In Chapter 17, you’ll learn how to use Office features inside Access.

We hope you’ll learn to enjoy Access as much as we do!

Conventions Used in This Book

There are cautions, tips, and notes throughout this book.


A caution will tell you to beware of a potentially dangerous act or situation. In some cases, ignoring a caution could cause you significant problems—so pay particular attention to them!


A tip is a piece of advice—a little trick, actually—that helps you use software or your computer more effectively. Tips can also help you maneuver around problems or limitations.


A note is designed to provide information that is generally useful, but not necessarily essential for what you’re doing at the moment. Some are like extended tips—interesting, but not essential.

Contacting the Authors

One of the best things about writing a book is the opportunity to hear from readers. We can’t write your databases for you, but we’d be happy to hear from you if something’s not clear, or if you just want to tell us how much you liked the book. You can email Susan at harkins@iglou.com, or Mike at MikeG1@larkfarm.com.

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