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Harlan Luxenberg on When to Use a Database Solution instead of Excel

Hi, I’m Harlan Luxenberg from Professional Data Analysts, Inc., a public he alth evaluation firm in Minneapolis, and I’d like to share some thoughts about certain situations where databases may be more useful than Microsoft Excel.  Excel is great for quickly crunching data and managing small datasets; however, using Excel in the wrong situations can actually make your data management tasks trickier.

Below are problems that our colleagues have encountered in Excel and reasons why we think that databases would be better solutions in these cases.

Hot Tip: Know which situations to use a database.


Rad Resource: Anyone can learn databases!

While the thought of learning databases can sound intimidating, anyone can learn them and there are tons of resources that will help you get going! There are numerous blogs and websites, and even free online classes such as Coursera.

Rad Resource: Start with Microsoft Access

A good database to start with is Microsoft Access (, which is part of the Microsoft Office Professional suite, and which may already be installed on your computer. Microsoft Access allows users to build reports, create data collection forms, visually create tables, and integrates seamlessly with Excel (which you can still use to create beautiful charts).

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.



  • Seth Williams · July 17, 2014 at 6:41 am

    This information about database being more useful than microsoft excel was really very interesting. Thanks for posting this article Harlan. We create many tutorials as well that may benefit your readers at


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    […] This results in reduced use of data or data confusion, as multiple copies of databases (e.g. Excel spreadsheets) are shared and updated […]


  • When to use a Database instead of Excel | PDA News · March 25, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    […] Are you tired of managing messy data sets with Excel? So are many of our colleagues, so we wrote a short post about certain situations that fellow evaluators may want to consider using a database instead of Excel. You can read it on AEA’s daily blog: […]


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