Access Basics:
Using Help

Title: Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101
Did you want: Working with Databases: Access 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016

Access has many Help topics that explain how Access works. Help is available even when there is no database open.

You can search for Help in several ways, but they all lead to the same information:

  • Menu Bar: Type a question for help text box

  • Icon: Access 2002Help dialog - tabs for Contents, Answer Wizard, Index

  • Icon: Access 2003   Help task pane - Search

  • Icon: Access 2003   Getting Started pane - Search

  • Office Assistant

Three methods for getting help: Type a question, Help pane, Office Assistant

Icon: Access 2003 Access 2003

Dialog: Help (Access 2002)

Icon: Access 2002Help dialog - Access 2002:
Tabs for Contents, Answer Wizard, Index

Where you are:
JegsWorks > Lessons > Databases

Before you start...

Project 1: Intro

Project 2: Access Basics Arrow: subtopic open
    InterfaceTo subtopics
    Getting Started Arrow: subtopic open 
    Icon: StepOpen Access
    Icon: StepSettings
    Icon: StepUsing Help
    Access ObjectsTo subtopics
    RelationshipsTo subtopics
    ExercisesTo subtopics

Project 3: Tables & Queries

Project 4: Forms & Reports


Where Help Searches

Icon: Access 2002Offline:
Access 2002 searches the offline Help files that are on your own computer. In the Answer Wizard results, you may find links that start with WEB:, which lead to online articles. Access will apparently know only about those articles that were available when your software was written.

Icon: TroubleBasic Search task pane returns no results or files instead of Help articles:
You cannot use this pane to look for Help articles. The Basic Search task pane does not search Help files. You should open the Help dialog or Office Assistant instead.  Help  |  Microsoft Access Help 

Task Pane: Search Results - Search section - list droppedIcon: Access 2003 Online or Offline:
In Access 2003, the default location for all Search methods is Microsoft Office Online.

At the bottom of the Search Results task pane, you can change to search Offline Help, which are the Help files on your own computer, or you can restrict your search to one of the special sections of Microsoft Office Online.

Clip Art and Media opens a page at Microsoft Office Online in a separate window.  There you can search the web site for free, downloadable clip art, photos, animations, and sounds.

Choosing to search only offline can be much faster. But, online articles are revised to include new information, so your offline copies may be out-of-date.

How to tell when online results are included:

  • Task Pane: Search Results - progress bar for online searchProgress bar:
    Appears in the Search pane when Access is connecting to Microsoft Office Online.
  • Task Pane: Search Results - onlineResults number line:
    At the top of the pane, the line that shows the number of results will say "from Office Online". 
  • Online article icon Icon: online Help article (2003):
    In the Search Results, articles that are found only online have the icon Icon: online Help article (2003) of a page with a circled question mark.

    Icon: ConfusioinPoint of Confusion: The online version of an article that is also available offline uses the offline icon Icon: offline Help article (2003) just like the offline articles do. There may be differences between the versions.
  • Feedback buttons: Was this information helpful?Opened Article - Feedback Buttons:
    Online articles have at the bottom a set of feedback buttons and links to Contact Us and the Privacy Statement.

How to tell that only offline results are included:

  • Task Pane: Search Results - offline onlyLink to online:  At the top of the Search Results pane, you will see a pale yellow bar offering a link to Microsoft Office Online.
  • Results number line:
    Just the number with no location mentioned.


Office Assistant: search bubbleOffice Assistant

The Office Assistant first appeared in Office 97. It is supposed to be an entertaining way to get help for Microsoft Office programs. Some people love it; some people hate it.

The Office Assistant is an animated figure with a balloon for messages and searches. The default character is Clippit, an animated paper clip. There are a number of other animations available, called actors.
Office Assistant: ClippitOffice Assistant: other actors available

Office Assistant with light bulbIn Office 2003 the Office Assistant is off by default. In previous versions it was on by default. There is one advantage to having the Office Assistant turned on. As you work, a light bulb appears over the assistant when there is a tip about what you are doing. This can be quite helpful when you are first learning the program.

Icon: Step-by-Step 

Step-by-Step: Using Help

 Icon: Step-by-Step

What you will learn:

to use the Type a question for help box
to use Help's table of contents
to open a Help topic
to manage the Office Assistant
to use the Office Assistant

Start with:  Access window, blank Access open but no database open.

Access comes with many Help topics. Access 2003 allows you to choose where you search for help information - offline only or including online materials from Microsoft Online. Microsoft Online has updated versions of the offline topics, plus more articles, including interactive tutorials Help Icon: Online training.

WarningSometimes your Help question brings up a list from the general Microsoft Office Help instead of Access Help. You may have to close Access and reopen it to get to the correct Help files.

Help: Type a question for help

While you can write a full question in the Type a question for help box, you may not need to do so. Typing only the main words may work just fine. 2 to 7 words should work best. If you do not see a topic that seems to fit, then try a more complete sentence.

  1. Task Pane: Search Results from Type a question for help boxList of topics from Type a question: keyboard shortcuts (Access 2002)Type keyboard shortcuts in the Type a question for help box at the top right of your Access window.
  2. Press the ENTER key. There is no button to click.
    Icon: Access 2002 A drop list of Help topics appears.
    Icon: Access 2003    The Search Results task pane shows a list of Help topics.

Open a Help Topic

  1. Click on Keyboard Shortcuts in the list.
    The topic opens in a new window.  The items with a right pointing arrow Help arrow - right are collapsed lists themselves. When a list is open, the arrow points down Help arrow - down.The lists are somewhat different in different versions.
    Icon: Access 2002 A Help window in two panes.
    Icon: Access 2003    A Help window with one pane.

    Note: Access 2003 results include a link for Icon: online Help article (2003) Office keyboard shortcuts. This leads to a web page where you can choose which program you want shortcuts for.

    Help: Keyboard shortcuts (2002)  Help: Keyboard shortcuts (2003)

  2. Help: Keyboard shortcuts with open toppics (2003)Click on Arrow - right Global Access shortcut keys
    The list expands and the arrow at the left of the link now points down Help arrow - down. This indicates an expanded list.
  3. From the new list, click on Opening databases.
    There are three shortcut key combinations listed, which work from inside Access.  Oddly, one is for quitting Access instead of for opening a database. Would you think to look here for that key combo?? 
  4. Click on Opening databases again. The list collapses and the arrow points to the right.
  5. Click on Global Access shortcut keys to collapse that list.
  6. Icon: Experiment Experiment with collapsing and expanding the various lists. Look for shortcuts similar to ones you already know from other Office programs.
    As you work with Access, you will find it helpful to learn the shortcut key combos for actions that you perform often. There are far too many key combos to expect to learn them all!

Help: Browse the Table of Contents

When you want to learn about a general topic, browsing through the Table of Contents can be educational. Access 2002 and 2003 have slightly different lists of topics.

  1. To find a the table of contents list:

    Dialog: Help (Access 2002)Icon: Access 2002With the Help dialog open, if necessary, click on the Contents tab to show the Table of Contents of Help topics
    A set of collapsed lists of topics shows.

    Icon: Access 2003 Click on the arrow at the right at the top of the Search Results pane that is still open.  Select  Help . Then click on the Help Icon: Table of Contents Table of Contents link. The list of topics opens in the same pane.

     Menu: Search Results task pane: Help Task Pane: Help Task Pane: Help : table of contents (Access 2003)

  2. Click on a topic and then on a subtopic to expand the list until you get to an article.
    Icon: Access 2002 Access 2002 Icons:
      Icon: Help topic - list collapsed (2002) Collapsed list
      Icon: Help topic - list expanded (2002) Expanded list
           Icon: Help article (2002) Article
    Icon: Access 2003 Access 2003 Icons:
      Icon: Help topic - collapsed list Collapsed list
      Icon: Help topic - list expanded (2003) Expanded list
          Icon: offline Help article (2003) Offline article
          Icon: online Help article (2003) or Icon: Help-  online article Online article
          Icon: Help- training Training
  3. Click on an article and read it.
    Icon: Access 2002Access 2002: The article open in the right-hand pane.
    Icon: Access 2003   Access 2003: The article opens in a new window.

Icon: Access 2003 Access 2003 Help: Search Online

Task Pane: Search Results - Search sectionIn Access 2003, at the bottom of the Search Results pane is a Search section. You can select customize your search by selecting where to search and what kind of item to look for, as well as entering the words to search for.

  1. Task Pane: Search Results | SearchClick on the arrow to open the drop list in the Search section at the bottom of the Search Results task pane. A list of locations and types of items appears.
  2. If necessary, select the location Microsoft Office Online.

  3. Task Pane: Search Results: table fieldsChange the search words to table fields and click the green button Button: Start searching to search again.
    At the top of the pane you see the number of articles in the results and what location was searched. Scroll the list.  Notice what articles are listed and their icons.
    Icon: TroubleCannot access Microsoft Office Online: You must be connected to the Internet to search online. (!)
  4. Help: Online - About TablesClick on the link Icon: offline Help article (2003) About tables. A new window opens with 2 links.
  5. Help: Tables - all topics expandedClick on the link About tables (MDB). MDB stands for Microsoft Database.
    The window changes to show a definition of a table and some links that open collapsed sections of the page.
  6. Click on the links and read the articles.
    Collapsing the links keeps the page tidy, but it is a bit confusing when some links open a new page and some open a hidden part of the same page.
    Tip Blue words inside the text are a link that opens a definition in green right on the page. Everything else moves out of the way. Surprising the first time it happens! You can click the blue words again to hide the definition.

    Help article - definition in green

  7. Help: About tables (MDB): Table Datasheet view - linksExpand and collapse the different sections of this page. Notice that the last link, Table Datasheet view,  opens yet another set of links, bordered in red in the illustration, but NOT in real life.

    Icon: TroubleHave you seen it all?
    When you are expanding and collapsing the parts of the page, it is easy to lose track of which sections you have read and which you have not.

    The down arrow Help arrow - down shows which lists are currently expanded.

    TipClicking the Arrow - right Show All link at the top of the page will expand all sections of the page, including the definitions. The link changes to Help arrow - down Hide All. Clicking on Help arrow - down Hide All collapses all sections of the page.

  8. Close the window and return to the Access window, which still shows the Search Results pane.
  9. Help - gray linkClick on the gray link Help > Similarities between Access Databases and Projects below Icon: offline Help article (2003) About tables
    Task Pane: Help: Table of Contents - Similarities between... - About tablesThe Table of Contents opens to a section that contains the link Icon: offline Help article (2003) About tables. This particular section would probably not jump out at you as the place to look for basic information on tables! But now that you have found it, there are many useful topics in view.
    Happily, the table of contents is not like that of a book. A link can appear in many different places in the list. You can use logic to find most information and Search to find the rest.
  10. Compare: Change your search words to and do a search of Offline Help and then, with the same search words, search Microsoft Office Online. Did you get different results? Did the online search take more time? A noticeable amount? Were the extra results worth the wait?

Help: Manage the Office Assistant

  1. Office Assistant: ClippitFrom the menu choose  Help .
  2. Click on Show the Office Assistant , the second item in the menu. The animated Office Assistant appears on your screen.

    Icon: TroubleIf the second item is  Hide the Office Assistant , then the Assistant is already showing on your screen somewhere. It may not be the default paper clip.

    Icon: TroubleIf the second item is grayed out, open the Help dialog or task pane by clicking on the first item in the menu, close it, and then look at the menu again.

  3. Help: Office Assistant - Search box, in bubbleClick on the Office Assistant actor. A dialog bubble appears.
  4. Click on Options at the bottom left of the bubble. A dialog for managing the Office Assistant appears.
  5. Dialog: Office Assistant - Gallery tabIf necessary, click on the Gallery tab. If the Next button is in black text, you have other actors to choose from. If you click on the OK button, the Office Assistant will change to use the actor currently showing.
  6. Dialog: Office Assistant - Options tabClick on the Options tab.
    On this tab you can change how the Office Assistant behaves and what kind of tips you want it to show you.
    To turn off the Office Assistant completely, you would uncheck the box for Use the Office Assistant. Leave it on for right now.

    As long as the box is checked, even when you choose Hide the Office Assistant from the Help menu, the Office Assistant will reappear when you try to access Help again. You must turn it off in this dialog when you do not want to see it at all.
  7. Click on OK to close the dialog.

Help: Use the Office Assistant

Sometimes you need to find how exactly how many characters Access will allow for an object's name, or exactly how many fields a table can have or some other limitation about Access. The keyword to use for your search is specifications.

  1. Task Pane: Search Results: Access specificationsHelp: Office Assistant: search for SpecificationsIn the Office Assistant text box, type specifications.
    A list of topics appears.
    Icon: Access 2002Access 2002: List is in the bubble. At the bottom there is a link to more topics than can be displayed in the bubble.
    Icon: Access 2003   Access 2003: List is in the Search Results task pane.
  2. Click on the topic Access specifications at the top of the list.

    Icon: Access 2002Access 2002: The Help dialog appears with page of collapsed sections in the right-hand pane.
    Icon: Access 2003   Access 2003: A Help window opens with a page of collapsed sections.

    Dialog: Help: Access specifications Help: Access specifications

    Icon: Access 2002Help Dialog and Icon: Access 2003 Search Results task pane

  3. Find the answers to the following from the specifications in this Help article:
    1. How many characters in a table name?
    2. How many characters in a field name?  
    3. How many fields in a table?

    Show answers

If you wish, you can turn off the Office Assistant now. (Display the Office Assistant, Options, uncheck Use the Office Assistant)