How to Create a Data Entry Form in Excel
MS Excel might be one of the most used software applications since the computing age began. Some might even say abused, considering that it has been put to many ‘unnatural’ applications, word processing to name one.
It may not have been the first software application to present spreadsheets and workbooks full of cells to users, with many magical possibilities, but it certainly has been, overwhelmingly, the most popular and widely used one. To some extent, it also benefited from the explosion in computing devices based on the Microsoft Windows operating systems.
A simple definition of MS Excel is provided by reference.com: “Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet application designed to perform basic and complex mathematical computations and functions. In addition to performing arithmetic operations, Excel allows users to create graphical displays of data, forms and pivot tables. It is also routinely used to sort information and assist users in identifying data trends.”
Not just numbers, MS Excel can perform logical functions on textual data as well. It can identify the third character in a text string. It can also remove the first three characters in a text string and put the cut portion and the remainder from the original in two separate cells. But we are getting carried away. Excel does not need any support. It is well known and liked and used around the world.
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Excel Data Entry
For the rich features of Excel to come into play, date is needed on which they can operate. Data can either be created through the process of data entry or it can be uploaded into Excel from some other compatible formats. In case of an upload, the date would possibly have been entered into the other application from which it is now being uploaded into Excel. So, a fundamental process is that of data entry to create data.
In our daily usage of Excel, most of us, while doing manual entry, do so directly into the target cells of the spreadsheet. Of course, for best results, we know that the contents need to be arranged neatly in some sort of order, as rows and columns.
Once data has been created in rows and columns, it becomes a database. The most common organization of data is for each row to represent a record with different pieces of information pertaining to that record while a column will contain values for one of the pieces of information across the different records. Thus, a row could have the name of a student in the first column, and their scores in different subjects in column two onwards. Column two will contain scores in one particular subject for all students.
This arrangement resembles a database.
One of the main differences between a database application, such as MS Access, and Excel is that a database application processes information record by record, or row by row if we compare it with Excel, while Excel is not limited to processing information row by row and can accommodate functions across any row or column. While this makes it a much more flexible and powerful application, it limits the amount of data it can handle as reaching out across rows and columns requires a huge amount of memory. A database application can handle virtually any amount of data as it processes one row at a time.
This brings us to one of the other differences between a database application and an Excel sheet. In a database application, the information in the database is hidden from the user. It is not something a user can directly access and tamper with. In an Excel sheet, on the other hand, the entire spreadsheet stretches out in front of the user, warts and all. The user can go to, touch, see, amend, delete, any part of the data in any of the fields.
While this makes Excel very easy to operate and visualize, it also makes Excel more vulnerable to errors and unintended changes and careless mistakes. The database application, on the other hand, since the database is not accessible, is safe from such issues. The user provides the inputs through a data entry form that acts like a portal to the database. It is done one record at a time. You don’t suddenly decide to update Literature marks for Susan and then jump to History marks for James before you come back to Math for Susan.
How do we secure the information in an Excel spreadsheet?
Database applications give us a good model. How about replicating a similar process for the Excel workbook the data in which we are trying to secure?
But is that possible?
In fact it is. Excel data entry can be done through a similar ‘arms-length’ relationship between the data entry and the database. It allows us to create a form for data entry so that the user is not directly interacting with the database, in this case the spreadsheet, when data entry is being done. Most Excel users being ‘light’ users may not need this separation. But where the database is large or where it is used for some critical functions, it would become important to protect its integrity.
So, how does one do it?
By creating a data entry form that will make the process faster and less prone to errors.
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Excel data entry form
Continuing with the example shared earlier, this is what our database might look like:
The teacher needs to enter the marks for another student, Leslie. The commonly followed process is that she would directly go into the database and add information for that student. This process, as we have seen, carries risks. To eliminate, or reduce, the risk, we can protect the database from being accessed by her and instead give her a data entry form to achieve the same objective.
The form might look like this:
After entering the information, the teacher clicks on ‘Add record’ and it will get added to the database, presenting the blank form yet again to the teacher, as above, where she can add information for another student.
While this should be the preferred way of entering information, it requires some effort in setting up. It is not something that will present itself as the natural option when you open an Excel workbook. You will first need to add it to the Quick Access toolbar.
Adding ‘Data Entry Form’ to the Quick Access toolbar
- Right click any of the icons currently in the Quick Access toolbar.
- Click on ‘Customize Quick Access Toolbar.’ In some versions, you will need to click on ‘Customize Ribbon’ with the Quick Access Toolbar option available at the next step.
- Choose the ‘All Commands’ option from the menu in the dialog box that opens up.
- Choose ‘Form’ from the list that now presents itself in the dialog box.
- Between the ‘Add’ and ‘Delete’ buttons that now appear, choose ‘Add’ since we want to add an Excel data entry form followed by ‘OK.’
Following the above steps should result in the ‘Form’ icon being added to your Quick Access Toolbar.
Creating the Data Entry Form for your spreadsheet:
After the Form icon has been added, you can click on any cell in your database (where you want to make entries through the new form), followed by the Form icon.
Caution: The data in your spreadsheet should be organized as an Excel Table. Convert it to a Table by clicking the ‘Format as Table’ icon or keyboard shortcut ‘Control + T.’
Understanding the new Data Entry Form
Here is a quick explanation of the new form that you have for excel data entry:
New – Clears form data and presents a blank form ready for you to enter data into
Delete – Deletes the record that has been pulled up on screen
Restore – If you have not clicked either ‘New’ or ‘Enter’ pressing this button will restore the information earlier in the form
Find Prev – Find the previous record
Find Next – Finds the next record
Criteria – It is like a search option that allows you to pull out records meeting defined criteria
Close – Closes the form
Scroll Bar – Use it for going through the database, record by record.
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Simple Steps for Common Functions in an Excel Data Entry Form
Creating a new record
- After selecting any cell in the Excel Table, click the Form icon in the Quick Access Toolbar.
- The form will open up.
- Enter data in the form fields.
- Hit the Enter key (or click the New button) to enter the record in the table.
- The table fields become blank, ready for the next
Going through the existing database
Pulling up one record at a time can be an easy way of navigating and editing the database, especially if there are a lot of columns requiring scrolling left and right. Here is how you can do it:
- Select any cell in the Excel Table followed by a click on the Form icon in the Quick Access Toolbar.
- The Form will open up.
- Use the ‘Find Next’ and ‘Find Prev’ buttons to go to the next or previous entry.
- To edit, simply make the change in the data and hit enter.
To revert to the original entry (if you haven’t pressed ‘Enter’ yet), click the ‘Restore’ button. You can also use the scroll bar to navigate through entries one-by-one.
Criteria based navigation
This feature is useful when the database is large and one needs to look at records of a specific type. This could be considered somewhat equivalent to the Filter function. Steps to follow for a search to identify students with more than 80 marks in History:
- Select cell in the Excel table, followed by clicking the Form icon in the Quick Access Toolbar.
- In the Data Entry Form dialog box, click the Criteria button.
- In the History field, enter ‘>80’.
- Use the Find Prev/ Find Next buttons to navigate through the entries where the History marks are more than 80.
You can even enter values in more than one field to lock in faster on the desired records, if that is the requirement.
For example, if you want to check out students who have scored more than 80 in all subjects, you need to enter ‘>80’ in all the Subject fields.
Deleting a Record
Deleting is a simple process:
- Select any cell in the Excel table and click the Form icon in the Quick Access Toolbar.
- Bring up the record you want to delete through scrolling or criteria based search
- Click the Delete button.
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Creating data validation rules to ensure database integrity
Excel data entry done manually might be the only solution in many cases but it also presents the greatest opportunity for errors. Errors made in a large database can be difficult to detect and compromise the sanctity of the entire database. As far as possible, errors should be eliminated at the point of entry into the database.
Forms give us the opportunity of creating validation rules that can be checked by the system which will eliminate certain types of errors.
If, for example, you have a field where you record a date, you can create a validation that will check for the entry being a date or not. Of course, we need to understand that it will not be able to check whether the date you have entered is correct or not.
How can you do this?
- Select the cells (or even the entire column) where you want to create a data validation rule.
- Click the Data tab, followed by the Data Validation option.
- In the dialog box, within the ‘Settings’ tab, select ‘Date’ from the ‘Allow’ drop down. Various other types of validations are possible, like checking for decimals, text length, etc..
- Specify the start and the end date. Entries within this date range would be valid and rest all would be denied. If the objective is to merely check that the entry is in a date format, you can keep the start and end dates wide enough to allow for all dates.
- Click OK.
After creating the validation, you will get an error message if you try to enter an incorrect date through the data entry form.
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