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Store data in a multi-dimensional table

Posted on 2014-01-28
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Last Modified: 2014-02-06
Please forgive a very naïve, basic question.
    I want to make a database to describe certain characters in a novel or any work of literature. I begin with a table in Word or Excel. Across the top are the names of the characters. Down the left side are page numbers in the book. If there is something on page one in the book I want to note about character A, I then write it in the cell at the intersection of Page 1 and Character A. Cells in Word can expand to hold lots of information. In Excel the cells can also expand, but they can equally well spill out their contents into the adjacent cell if the latter is empty. Both applications can hold all the data I need, and the above system works very well.
    The table is two-dimensional, but what if I want to add more dimensions? How about having an axis to contain appearances or some other trait? I could have a two-dimensional table to have characters along the title row and other characteristics down the left side: age, origin, religion, personality, and so forth. A third axis could contain the page references for the notes, if that is possible.
    My basic, simple (I hope) question is how can I make a multi-dimensional table for data in Word or Excel? Would it be easier to learn to use Access? I’d prefer to use Word since I’m more familiar with it, but if Access would be easier for this problem, then so be it.
    Thanks for any suggestions.
    JR in Priddis, Alberta
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Question by:JohnRobinAllen
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RAdministrator earned 250 total points
ID: 39815091
The minute you say "database" you are going outside of the usual purpose of Word and Excel. That being said, I assume that you are not entirely proficient with Access and learning it would just slow you down from accomplishing your character database.

If you do not plan on expanding beyond the three-dimensional references, I would suggest staying in Word and using a reference index (or glossary) with hyperlinks. Your glossary would be at the end, each reference numbered and entered into the hyperlink (e.g. 1) - page 3, line 6, character A...) then in your character/trait table you can go to Review - Insert reference - Internal hyperlink  then pick the reference you want to use.
A bit clunky for a solution, I agree, but I think it will allow you to use existing skills to get the job done and focus on what's important to you.
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Author Comment

by:JohnRobinAllen
ID: 39824950
I had hoped for something that really created a multi-dimensional spreadsheet. I now gather that from the lack of response, the problem is not easily solved, and perhaps the easiest way to solve it is to learn use a relational database.
     An internet search on making a multi-dimensional table in Excel produced a number of references such as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3plsR7jKZx8. The problem is the same. It stores the data but one cannot manipulate the data. I had thought that Excel pivot tables could provide a different solution.
     Another solution similar to RAdministrator’s solution is to put page reference information into footnotes, something I would prefer to use for lack of anything better, as one would not need to use a computer to see the page reference for any given cell.
     I’ll wait a couple of days to see if we get any further suggestions, and then I’ll simply assign the points. Word appears not to be flexible enough to get me what I wanted, yet I’m not convinced we cannot work out a “good enough for government work” solution.
     A special thanks to RAdministrator's suggestion. It shows he has thought about the problem and he must know computers better than I
     JRA in Priddis, Alberta
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Author Closing Comment

by:JohnRobinAllen
ID: 39840343
With no further comments from other experts, I presume RAdministrator's solution is the best that can be had when one wants to work with Word alone.
     That certainly encourages me to want to learn to use Access.
     It could well turn out that the method of analysis of a literary text suggested by my question is not a profitable means of simplifying literature.
     As for me, I look forward to pushing the limits of literary analysis with the help of computers. There is much common ground between art, music, literature, mathematics, and physics. Computers help us bridge disparate fields to see what links them all.
     Thanks to RAdministrator for his or her help.
     --JR in Priddis, Alberta
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