A database is a method of storing data, much like a filing cabinet that stores paper records. The entire filing cabinet is the database. The file folders are, say, the medical records. There is a record for each person, for example. Each file folder contains the same types of data. Examples of types of data in this example are Patient Name, Address, Appointment Date, Appointment Info, etc. These types of data are called fields in the database. The data in the fields is stored in tables, much like a spreadsheet. The records are the rows in the table and the fields are the columns.
The data in the fields is linked together with a special field, called a key. The key contains unique data (usually a number) that identifies that the name. The key is used for sorting data and for storing repeating data. There may be multiple key fields in the database. One of the most commonly used database software is Microsoft Access. It is part of the Microsoft Office Suite.
Data is entered into the database using a form. The form can automatically fill in some information in the case of repeating types of data or assign a particular key to the data entered. For instance, when you select John Smith when entering a new Appointment Date, you will be able to search for and report all of John Smith's appointment information at a later date. This is because John Smith's unique key is assigned to the data you enter. Forms are easy to create in Microsoft Access. You can use a wizard to automatically create a form.
The power of the database comes when you need to report the data. You can choose to sort the data by any of the fields. Microsoft Access uses wizards to design reports that are customized to the data you want. You can also create forms to allow you to customize reports by the particular data contained in the fields. You can use Microsoft Access wizards to customize the look and field of your reports using templates, too.
Finally, you can use Microsoft Access to import existing data that is stored in other spreadsheets. There is an import wizard that helps you do this. Each spreadsheet becomes its own table and then you can use the data to create custom reports. In addition, you can import data that is stored in a text file separated by commas or tabs or other delimiters.