SQL: SELECT Functions (Top, Count, Distinct, Max, Min)

I introduced you to the SELECT statement in SQL in my last SQL posting: SQL: SELECT Statement

Now I am going to show you some tricks that will provide you with more functionality in your Select statements.

**note, in the examples below, I am working with the HumanResources.Employee table from the AdventureWorks2012 data set. If you want to follow along with the exercises, go to my previous SQL posting: SQL: SELECT Statement where I show you how to download and attach the AdventureWorks2012 database.


Top allows you to limit the number of rows that are returned. (note Top is a T-SQL (Microsoft’s version of SQL command. MySQL and Oracle use the term Limit).

Select Top 10 *
from HumanResources.Employee

Using Top 10 we are querying only the first 100 records from the Employee table. This is often useful when you are exploring a database and just want to see what is in a table. Using Select * in some larger tables without using the Top command to limit the amount of output can result in a query that could take minutes to hours to complete.

Note that the query above returns the first 10 records based usually on the order records were entered. If you want to top 10 newest employees you would need to add an Order By command.

Select Top 10 *
from HumandResources.Employee
order by HireDate desc

The order by command sorts the results by the dates in the column HireDate in descending order (desc) most recent to earliest. If I wanted to go the other way, I would use the command: order by HireDate asc – ascending(asc)


If yon want a count of the number of records in a table, SQL has a Count() function. The syntax is below.

Select Count(*)
from HumandResources.Employee

This returns the number of records in the table. If you wanted to know how many male employees are in the table, you can add a Where clause (I will cover Where more in-depth in later lessons)

Select Count(*)
from HumandResources.Employee
where Gender like 'M'


Notice how there are repeated JobTitles in the table below. What if you wanted a list of job titles without any repeating elements.


In this case, you will use the Distinct() function. Placing the column you want in the parenthesis and the query will return a non repeating list.

Select Distinct(JobTitle)
from HumandResources.Employee

Now, what if you want to know how many distinct job titles exist in the company. Well, we can use the Count() function in conjunction with Distinct()

Select Count(Distinct(JobTitle))
from HumandResources.Employee

The query above will return a count (number) of the distinct job titles found in the table

Max() and Min()

Max() and Min() do pretty much what you would expect them to do. They return the maximum or minimum value in column.

Select Max(HireDate) as Max, Min(HireDate) as Min
from HumandResources.Employee

** “as” command in a Select statement gives a name to result columns in query

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SQL: SELECT Statement


SELECT is doubtlessly the most important command in SQL. A database is completely useless unless you can query the data it is holding. SELECT is how we query.

If you want to follow along:

You will need MS SQL Server installed. Here is a link to instructions: InstallSQL

Microsoft provides a great sample database known as Adventure Works. I am working with the 2012 release. You can download it here: AdventureWorksDownload

Once you have Adventureworks downloaded, you will need attach it to SQL Server.

Copy and paste the download file to somewhere you can find it. I recommend:

C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL12.MSSQLSERVER\MSSQL\DATA

** the portion in red changes based on what version of SQL Server you downloaded. 


Open SQL Server Management Studio. Windows Key + R – Type SSMS


Login to your server


Go to Object Explorer – Right Click Database > Attach…


Click Add…


Select Adventureworks2012_Data.mdf


In the bottom window, highlight the log file and click Remove. Then Click Okay


Go back to Object Explorer. Expand Databases > AdventureWorks2012 > Tables


Just picking a table at random, I selected HumanResources.Employee. Let us see what is in the table. Click the New Query button up top, and a new query window will open.


Make sure you are working with the right database. Select AdventureWorks2012 from the drop down:


Cut and Paste the following into the new query window.

select *
from HumanResources.Employee

select JobTitle, BirthDate, Gender, HireDate
from HumanResources.Employee

select JobTitle as Job, BirthDate as DOB, Gender, HireDate as [Start Date]
from HumanResources.Employee

select HireDate as [Start Date], JobTitle as Job, BirthDate as DOB, Gender
from HumanResources.Employee
order by HireDate
select HireDate as [Start Date], JobTitle as Job, BirthDate as DOB, Gender
from HumanResources.Employee
where gender like ‘F’
order by HireDate


One cool thing about SQL code is that you can select only the  code you want to execute

Highlight the first group of code and click the ! Execute button



  • Select * – Select all fields in the table. “*” is a wildcard in SQL
  • from HumanResources.Employee – this is the table we want to work with
  • go – this indicates and end to the code block. It is not needed when executing code block by block (like we are doing here), but it is a good practice to get in the habit of adding it

Notice the results show every field in the table. It displays in a spreadsheet like table


Now Select the next code group  and click ! Execute



  • select JobTitle, BirthDate, Gender, HireDate – Here we are selecting four specific columns from the table
  • The rest is same as above

Results show the 4 columns selected above


Next block of code – click ! Execute


  • select JobTitle as Job, BirthDate as DOB, Gender, HireDate as [Start Date] – In this case, we use the “as” command to give the field names more User friendly names

Note the column names have changed


Next block of code – click ! Execute



  • select HireDate as [Start Date], JobTitle as Job, BirthDate as DOB, Gender – here we reordered the fields so that HireDate appears first
  • order by HireDate – this SQL for Sort by. The results will now be ordered by HireDate

Notice Start Date(HireDate) is now the first column and the records (rows) are sorted in order from oldest Start Date to newest


FInal block of code – click ! Execute



  • where gender like ‘F’ – here we are filtering the results to only ones were Gender is F.

Note now only Female employees are in the results


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MS SQL Server: Installation

When it comes to SQL Server for personal use – (i.e. training, education) Microsoft offers two options:

  • SQL Server Express: This option is free, but is surprisingly robust. This is the version I cut my teeth on.
  • SQL Server Developer Edition – which you can find online at around the $60.00 price point. This edition is worth the money as it comes with everything  (SSIS, SSRS, etc.) Unfortunately you will need to purchase from a 3rd party vendor because as of the time of this writing, Microsoft is not currently selling it.

For this tutorial, we will focus on Express:

Here is the link for SQL Server Express: Download Link

The screen below explains the options available. You will want – at minimum – to install SQL Server Express with Tools. I would recommend SQL Server Express with Advanced Services.

Select the download arrow my red arrow is pointing to and you will be asked to sign in with your Microsoft Account. (If you don’t have one, do not worry, they are free – sign up for it).



On the next screen, choose your version and language. Make sure you choose 64 or 32bit. If you don’t know what version Windows you are running. Go to your Control Panel > Admin Tools > System Configuration You will find your system version there.


Once the file downloads, just run it like a regular MSI. The only thing you really may not have seen before is asking for authentication method. I always go with Mixed Mode (just make sure to remember the SA password you put in).

If you are having trouble, here is a good You Tube Tutorial for a step by step installation: Link to Video

Okay, now we have SQL Server installed, let’s use it.

Starting SQL Server Management Studio

SQL Server Management Studio is how you will interact with SQL Server.

To open it up, hit Windows Key+R. In the run box type SSMS.


Since you are trying to connect to the SQL Server you just installed on your computer, enter localhost as Server name. Choose Windows Authentication and hit connect.


Let’s Make a Database

Once SQL Server Management Studio opens, go to the Object Explorer and right click Databases > New Database


Let us name the new database SQLIntro and hit okay. Don’t worry about other options at this point.


From the top bar, select New Query


Copy and Paste the following script into the Query window that just opened up. Don’t worry about the code at this point. Just know:

  1. Use SQLIntro – tells us to use the database we just created
  2. Create table — we are creating a table called FirstTable with 2 columns Name and Age
  3. We are inserting data (names and ages of 4 people) into our new table

Copy the script below:

Use SQLIntro

Create table FirstTable
(Name nvarchar(255),
Age int)

Insert into FirstTable (Name, Age)
values (‘Ben’, 40), (‘Chris’, 45), (‘Patrick’, 32), (‘Jordan’, 18)

After you paste the data, hit Execute!


Let’s See Our Data

Go to Object Explorer:

  1. Databases — note you will not have as many databases as you see here. This is my SQL Server I have been working with for the past 3 years.
  2. SQLIntro
  3. Tables
  4. Right Click dbo.FirstTable
  5. Select Top 1000 Rows


And there you have it, the contents of your first table in your first SQL Server Database


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Automating Data Preparation with SQL Server

Download the Excel file here: Data Cleaning with SQL
Download the SQL file here: Data Cleaning with SQL
**Zip Folder contains the SQL file as both an SQL file and Txt for easy
viewing by people who don't have SQL Server installed 

Data preparation and cleaning is not a lot of fun. Data preparation is especially irritating when you have to repeat the task over and over again. While no one has come up with a data cleaning magic wand that I am aware of, there are some ways to automate the dreaded process.

While there are many software offerings out there that can help you with data cleaning, some are very expensive and have a high learning curve. So in this article I am going to focus on SQL Server. I chose SQL Server for the following reasons:

  • SQL programming is vital skill to have if you want to work in data
  • SQL Server readily available. Many  companies have it. If you don’t have access to a current SQL Server, you can download the Express version for free.

The Problem

You work for a university and scheduling software is sorely out of date. The reporting capabilities are limited to 4 pre-canned reports. There is no money for an upgrade, but your boss is asking you for some reports that are not available from the system.

So you go to extract some data from the outdated software, but the program only lets you extract the following 4 columns (Start Date, Class, Professor, Classroom).

Let’s look at the data

Here is the data sample you pulled.


To effectively create the reports your boss is asking for, you need to add a few more data points.


Now, while these columns can be added manually, keep in mind a class schedule at a even a small university is at least 100 classes. And when you consider that you will have to repeat this process for every new semester, finding a way to automate this process will save you a lot of time in the end.

Step One – Get the data into SQL Server

First, let’s create a new database to work with.

Open up SQL Server Management Studio >  Object Explorer > right click  > Databases > New Database


In the New Database window, give your new database the name University and click OK


Right click on your new database > Tasks > Import Data


On the Welcome to SQL Server Data Import  and Export Wizard click Next

On Choose a Data Source, select Microsoft Excel from the drop down. Then browse to your downloaded Excel file: dataCleanWSQL.xlsx


Select SQL Server Native Client from the drop down. If your are working on the same machine as your SQL Server instance, you can just put a period “.” in Server Name. Otherwise you would need the server name. Database should be pre-filled with University.


Select Copy data from one or more tables or views and click Next


Take note of Destination name ([dbo].[Sheet1$]) and click Next


Click Next and Finish. You will watch the process. Note how many rows transferred. This should match up to your source data.


Back in the Object Browser go to University> Tables > dbo.Sheet1$. Right click and Select Top 1000 Rows.


Here is the output, showing the contents of your imported data


Step 2- Write the SQL Script

Load the SQL script by going to File>Open>File and choose DataCleanwSQL.SQL

While this is not an SQL tutorial, I will give a brief overview of the script file

**note GO in SQL indicates a complete block of code. This code will be completed before the script continues one to the next block of code. While it is not always needed, it is good coding practice

The first block of code: use University, simply tells SQL Server which database we are working with.

The next block: alter table, lets you make changes to an existing time. In this case, we are adding 3 column for out new data fields to go in (day, department, building).


The next block is an update block. In this block we set the value of our new column day by datename(dw, [start date]). This converts the datetime stamp from [start date] to a weekday name.

The next block is a Case Statement. This works like a nested If – Then -Else statement in many languages. In this block we are stating When the value of Class column is like ‘Calc%’ ( % is a wildcard in SQL) Then set the value of the department column to ‘Math’


The next code block is another Case statement. This one is using a between statement though, stating that When the Classroom column value is between 100 and 199 then set the value of Building to A

Select *
from dbo.sheet1$
displays the contents of the table.


Now we have our data the way we want it. You connect you BI tool to SQL Server to work with the data, you can export it as a CSV file, or you can just copy an paste it into Excel for further analysis.


Step 3: Repeat as needed

The great advantage the method above is that now we have a script we can run again over and over. So the next semester, when you download the new class listing, you don’t have to spend a lot of time on data prep. You simply have to import it into SQL Server and run your script.