If there is one mantra that anyone who uses a computer should adhere to it is this: back up your work regularly. I must confess to being a slow convert to this way of thinking, but after a hard drive failure caused the loss of an entire project I was working on, I saw the light.

Back in those days the most common form of backing up work was on floppy disks, but today there are several alternatives. As well as physical media, such as memory sticks and CDs, there are many ways to store information online, from dedicated backup sites to the simple act of emailing those precious documents to yourself so that you will still be able to access them, should your hard drive go the way of a famous Norwegian Blue parrot.

One aspect of databases is that they are often updated on a regular basis. This makes frequent back ups essential, not only as a counter-measure against of the dreaded hard drive failure mentioned above, but also to allow you access to an earlier version of the database should you encounter corrupt data, or perhaps delete something you shouldn't.

Access automatically saves as you work, so there is no need to be sporadically pressing Ctrl + S. But when you first save a new database, it is important to give it a name that relates directly to its contents. The reason for this will become clear when we look at backing up files. Actually backing up a file is simplicity itself, and so there is no excuse for not having a previous copy at hand should disaster strike.

In Access 2007, click on the Office button and then select Manage from the list and click on Backup Database. This will open up the Save As dialog box and Access will prompt you with a default name for the material you are about to back up. This will be the name of the file with today's date appended. Although you could rename the backed up file if you wished, it is wise to use this default form of naming your backup files, as the inclusion of the date means that you will always be able to find the most recent version. Backing up in this manner also highlights the need to give your databases a name that relates directly to the content. Using initial letters or your own form of abbreviations will make recovering the backed up files more difficult. Clarity is the key.

So when should you back up your database?

This will depend on how often your database is updated. If your database is an archive, or primarily for viewing and is only updated infrequently, then you need only backup every time new information is added. Frequently updated databases should be backed up regularly, perhaps on a daily basis. Aside from these scheduled backups, it is common sense to back up your database before editing or deleting records.

It is also recommended that you backup just before running an action query, as this will often alter or delete a lot of data. When carrying out an action query, the resulting changes cannot be reversed using the Undo function, so making a backup just prior to carrying out this task makes sense.

Although this article deals specifically with backing up work in Microsoft Access, regular back ups should be an everyday part of your routine in other applications. I know from experience how unpleasant a feeling it is to see a lot of work lost. Access databases often contain data that has been gathered over months or years and so any precautions that can help prevent such a loss should be taken.