The Differences Between Microsoft Word, Excel and Access

By Julie Davoren

Although Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access share similarities, they are all suited for different objectives. Much of what one of the applications does, the other two can also do. The professionalism, effectiveness and efficiency, however, may be lacking in the outcome when performed by the other application. Users may sometimes choose to accomplish certain tasks in one application, more because of the user's familiarity with that application than because of the application's intended use.


The main criterion that sets this trilogy apart is the fundamental design of the products and the applications' intended use. MS Excel is excellent for crunching numbers and handling calculations and formulas. It also supports the creation of graphs from available data, including data in external tables. MS Access is adept at handling lists of interrelated data and can store many tables and databases. MS Word is ideal for presenting documents such as manuscripts and memos.


Microsoft Word is a word processing application for use to type documents, reports and letters. As with the other applications, Word enables you to open and close files, cut, copy and paste snippets. Also "Find" and "Replace" words or phrases in multiple locations. Use features in Word, such as drawing tools, clip art and tables to make documents more attractive, and if you have long lists of data, bullet and number these points to make them stand out. Create charts in Word, when necessary. While Word allows you to organize data in columns and rows and even process easy calculations in Word, number crunching and data storage are not among the application's strong points.


Microsoft Excel is an electronic spreadsheet that helps you organize data methodically. A powerful feature of Excel is its capability for performing complex mathematical calculations efficiently and quickly. For example, with the use of functions, calculate the lowest or the highest number in a range, calculate averages, or even calculate the future value of an investment. With Excel, automatically format a series such as the days in a week, amounts less than a certain number or conditionally format cells based on criteria that you set. You have the ability in Excel to represent your data in graphs or charts of various types, such as pie charts, bar graphs or scatter diagrams to add value to your presentation. While you can enter text in Excel, the application's intended use does not include producing documents such as essays and letters.


Microsoft Access is a relational database management application used for storing data, which retrieved later. Unlike in Excel where the spreadsheet is locked (unless file sharing is turned on) and can be used by only one user at a time, in Access the database is not locked and used by more than one user simultaneously -- Access locks only the record being updated. This allows multiple users to use the same database and update records simultaneously. A major difference between Excel and Access is the learning curve. To achieve optimum usage of Access, some knowledge of programming, particularly Visual Basic and SQL are needed; therefore, the learning curve for Access can be a bit steeper than that of Excel.