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Understanding Lists

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Understanding Lists.

In Excel, a database is most often referred to as a list. A list is nothing more than a data table that contains organized information. For instance, a list can contain information about your receivables, your coin collection, or the test results for students in your class.

Lists, or databases, are comprised of records (for instance, each row could be the record for one student) and fields (here, each column is the data from one category). Normally you place labels at the top of the list to indicate the field names, therefore each column represents a field. Each row in the list is a database record.

There are a few guidelines you might find helpful as you are developing lists. Remember that these guidelines only apply if you will be using the database-related functions built into Excel.

  • Use only one list per worksheet.
  • If at all possible, make the list the only thing on the worksheet. If you must include other data besides the list on a worksheet, separate the data from the list by at least one blank row or one blank column.
  • Always put field labels (sometimes called column labels) in the first row of your list. Use only one row.
  • Make sure that the field labels look different from the rest of your list. They should be formatted differently so that Excel can determine they are, indeed, field labels.
  • Make sure the row containing the field labels is immediately followed by the first row of the list.
  • Don't put any data in any of the rows following your list. Doing so makes it harder to use data forms.

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2084) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Understanding Lists.

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