Access 2013: Working with Tables

Lesson 7: Working with Tables



While there are four types of database objects in Access, tables are arguably the most important. Even when you're using forms, queries, and reports, you're still working with tables because that's where all of your data is stored. Tables are at the heart of any database, so it's important to understand how to use them.

In this lesson, you will learn how to open tables, create and edit records, and modify the appearance of your table to make it easier to view and work with.

Throughout this tutorial, we will be using a sample database. If you would like to follow along, you'll need to download our Access 2013 sample database. You will need to have Access 2013 installed on your computer in order to open the example.

Table basics

To open an existing table:

  1. Open your database, and locate the Navigation pane.
  2. In the Navigation pane, locate the table you want to open. Tables are marked with a spreadsheet icon.
  3. Double-click the desired table. It will open and appear as a tab in the Document Tabs bar.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Opening a table

Understanding tables

All tables are composed of horizontal rows and vertical columns, with small rectangles called cells in the places where rows and columns intersect. In Access, rows and columns are referred to as records and fields.

Screenshot of Access 2013Records, fields, and cells in an Access table

A field is a way of organizing information by type. Think of the field name as a question and every cell within that field as a response to that question.

Screenshot of Access 2013Fields and field names

A record is one unit of information. Every cell on a given row is part of that row's record. Each record has its own ID number. Within a table, each ID number is unique to its record and refers to all of the information within that record. The ID number for a record cannot be changed.

Screenshot of Access 2013Records and record ID numbers

Each cell of data in your table is part of both a field and a record. For instance, if you had a table of names and contact information, each person would be represented by a record, and each piece of information about each person—name, phone number, address, and so on—would be contained within a distinct field on that record's row.

Click the buttons in the interactive below to learn how to navigate a table.

edit hotspots

To navigate between fields, you can use the left and right arrow keys or scroll left and right.

Adding records and entering data

Entering data into tables in Access is similar to entering data in Excel. To work with records, you'll have to enter data into cells. If you need help entering data into records, you might want to review our Cell Basics lesson from our Excel 2013 tutorial.

To add a new record:

There are three ways to add a new record to a table:

  • In the Records group on the Home tab, click the New command.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Adding a new record from the Ribbon
  • On the Record Navigation bar at the bottom of the window, click the New record button.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Adding a new record from the Record Navigation bar
  • Begin typing in the row below your last added record.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Adding a new record by typing in the row under the last record

Sometimes when you enter information into a record, a window will pop up to tell you that the information you've entered is invalid. This means the field you're working with has a validation rule, which is a rule about the type of data that can appear in that field. Click OK, then follow the instructions in the pop-up window to re-enter your data.

Screenshot of Access 2013An example of a validation warning

To save a record:

Access is designed to save records automatically. After you enter a record, you can either select a different record or close the object, and Access will save the record. However, in certain situations you may want to save a record manually. For example, if you needed to edit an existing record, you could save the record to ensure your changes are saved.

  1. Select the Home tab, and locate the Records group.
  2. Click the Save command. The record will be saved.

    Screenshot of Access 2013Saving a record

Editing records

To quickly edit any record within a table, you can click it and type your changes. However, Access offers you the ability to find and replace a word within multiple records and delete records entirely.

To replace a word within a record:

You can edit multiple occurrences of the same word by using Find and Replace, which searches for a term and replaces it with another term.

  1. Select the Home tab, and locate the Find group.
  2. Select the Replace command. The Find and Replace dialog box will appear.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Clicking the Replace command
  3. In the Find What: field, type the word you want to find, then in the Replace With: field type the word you would like to replace the original word. In our example, we'll find instances of the word Fall and replace it with Autumn.

    Screenshot of Access 2013Entering the replacement text
  4. Click the Look In: drop-down arrow to select the area you want to search.
    • Select Current Field to limit your search to the currently selected field.
    • Select Current Document to search within the entire table.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Choosing where in the table to look
  5. Click the Match: drop-down arrow to select how closely you'd like results to match your search.
    • Select Any Part of Field to search for your search term in any part of a cell.
    • Select Whole Field to search only for cells that match your search term exactly.
    • Select Beginning of Field to search only for cells that start with your search term.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Choosing how closely the records should match your search
  6. Click Find Next. If the text is found, it will be selected.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Clicking Find Next to view the next match for your search
  7. Review the text to make sure you want to replace it. Click Replace to replace the original word with the new one.

    Screenshot of Access 2013Replacing the original word with a new one
  8. Access will move to the next instance of the text in the object. When you are finished replacing text, click Cancel to close the dialog box.

The Replace All option is powerful, and it may actually change some things you don't want to change. In the example below, the word fall did not refer to the season, so replacing it with Autumn would be incorrect. Using the normal Replace option allows you check each instance before replacing the text. You can click Find Next to skip to the next instance without replacing the text.

Screenshot of Access 2013The unintended consequences of choosing Replace All

To delete a record:

  1. Select the entire record by clicking the gray border on the left side of the record.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Selecting a record
  2. Select the Home tab and locate the Records group.
  3. Click the Delete command.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Clicking the Delete Command
  4. A dialog box will appear. Click Yes.

    Screenshot of Access 2013Deleting a record
  5. The record will be permanently deleted.

The ID numbers assigned to records stay the same even after you delete a record. For example, if you delete the 213th record in a table the sequence of record ID numbers will read ...212, 214, 215... rather than ...212, 213, 214, 215...

Screenshot of Access 2013A missing ID number after a record has been deleted

Modifying table appearance

Access offers various ways to modify the appearance of tables, including resizing fields and rows and temporarily hiding information you don't need to see. These changes aren't just about making your table look good; they also can make the table easier to read.

Resizing fields and rows

If your fields and rows are too small or large for the data contained with them, you can always resize them so all of the text is displayed.

To resize a field:

  1. Place your cursor over the right gridline in the field title. Your mouse will become a double arrow.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Resizing a field
  2. Click and drag the gridline to the right to increase the field width or to the left to decrease the field width, then release the mouse. The field width will be changed.
    The resized field, now with all the text fully displayingThe resized field

To resize a row:

  1. Place your cursor over the bottom gridline in the gray area to the left of the row. Your mouse will become a double arrow.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Resizing a row
  2. Click and drag the gridline downward to increase the row height or upward to decrease the row height, then release the mouse. The row height will be changed.
    Screenshot of Access 2013The resized row

Hiding fields

If you have a field you don't plan on editing or don't want other people to edit, you can hide it. A hidden field is invisible but is still part of your database. Data within a hidden field can still be accessed from forms, queries, reports, and any related tables.

To hide a field:

  1. Right-click the field title, then select Hide Fields.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Hiding a field
  2. The field will be hidden.

If you decide you want the field to be visible again, you can unhide it. Simply right-click any field title, then select Unhide Fields. A dialog box will appear. Click the checkboxes of any fields you want to be visible again, then click Close.

Screenshot of Access 2013Unhiding a hidden field

Table formatting options

Alternate row color

By default, the background of every other row in an Access table is a few shades darker than the background of the rest of the table. This darker alternate row color makes your table easier to read by offering a visual distinction between each record and the records directly above and below it.

Screenshot of Access 2013A table with alternate row colors

To change the alternate row color:

  1. Select the Home tab, locate the Text Formatting group, and click the Alternate Row Color drop-down arrow.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Clicking the Alternate Row Color drop-down arrow
  2. Select a color from the drop-down menu, or select No Color to remove the alternate row color.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Choosing a row color
  3. The alternate row color will be updated.
Screenshot of Access 2013The updated alternate row color

Modifying gridlines

Another way Access makes your tables easier to read is by adding gridlines that mark the borders of each cell. Gridlines are the thin lines that appear between each cell, row, and column of your table. By default, gridlines are dark gray and appear on every side of a cell, but you can change their color and hide undesired gridlines.

Screenshot of Access 2013Horizontal and vertical gridlines

To customize which gridlines appear:

  1. Select the Home tab, locate the Text Formatting group, and click the Gridlines drop-down arrow.
    Screenshot of Access 2013The Gridlines drop-down arrow
  2. Select the gridlines you want to appear. You can choose to have horizontal gridlines between the rows, vertical gridlines between the columns, both types of gridlines, or none at all.
    Screenshot of Access 2013Selecting horizontal gridlines
  3. The gridlines on your table will be updated.
    Screenshot of Access 2013The updated horizontal-only gridlines

Additional formatting options

To view additional formatting options, click the Datasheet Formatting arrow in the bottom-right corner of the Text Formatting group.

Screenshot of Access 2013Clicking the Datasheet Formatting arrow

The Datasheet Formatting dialog box offers several advanced formatting options, including the ability to modify background color, gridline color, and border and line style. It even includes the ability to view a sample table with your formatting choices, so play around with the various formatting options until you get your table looking the way you want it.

Screenshot of Access 2013Changing the table background color, gridline color, and border and line style


  1. Open an existing Access database. If you want, you can use our Access 2013 sample database.
  2. Open the Customers table.
  3. Add a new record to the table. Be sure to enter data for every field.
  4. Find the record with the name Tyra Kirby, and replace it with a name of your choice.
  5. Hide a field, then unhide it.
  6. Change the alternate row color.