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Data Storage Methods

A database is simply an electronic representation of the data you've collected. A database houses all of the collected data in one spot for data storage and analysis.

All of the data associated with a single item (such as a person) is stored as a record in the database. In most database software programs, each row of data is a record (see below).

The columns in a database are usually the data elements or data variable names (see below).

Picture of Microsoft Access Screen


Different Types of Commercial Data Storage Methods

These methods assume that you will create your OWN data storage mechanism. There are also EMS/EMSC products that are already created for collecting the standard national data variables.

  • Database programs (e.g, Microsoft Access, Oracle, SQL Server)
    • Advantages: Information is stored as a complete record. You can easily query the data and create new variables or data subsets. In many applications, you can create a user interface for entering the data.
    • Disadvantages: Requires time and technical skill to initally design the database and to set up variables correctly
  • Spreadsheet programs (e.g., Microsoft Excel)
    • Advantages: Easy to structure spreadsheets for input. Simple view of the data.
    • Disadvantages: Data types are not explicitly defined. Data are not stored as a record (this is key!). Manipulation of data (for analyses, etc.) can be error-prone and time consuming with no record of changes
  • Statistical programs with database options (e.g., SPSS, SAS)
    • Advantages: Data entry and analysis are completed in the same software. Similar to database programs, you can easily query the data and create new variables or data subsets.
    • Disadvantages: Spreadsheet/database options for statistical applications vary widely (know your software!). The most powerful tools can be very time consuming to learn and require advanced knowledge.

Helpful Considerations

  • Think about the trade off between features available and the time investment to learn the software.
  • Things to consider:
    • Who is designing the database?
    • Who is entering the data?
    • Who is analyzing the data?
    • How much data will you have?
    • How often will you need to use these tools?
  • The data should be stored in a database by someone familiar with that program.


NEDARC can help you thru the process of choosing a database storage method. Contact your NEDARC state/territory contact for more information!


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rev. 04-Aug-2022




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