This AMEE Guide offers an introduction to the use of databases in medical education research. It is intended for those who are contemplating conducting research in medical education but are new to the field. The Guide is structured around the process of planning your research so that data collection, management and analysis are appropriate for the research question. Throughout we consider contextual possibilities and constraints to educational research using databases, such as the resources available, and provide concrete examples of medical education research to illustrate many points. The first section of the Guide explains the difference between different types of data and classifying data, and addresses the rationale for research using databases in medical education. We explain the difference between qualitative research and qualitative data, the difference between categorical and quantitative data, and the difference types of data which fall into these categories. The Guide reviews the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative research. The next section is structured around how to work with quantitative and qualitative databases and provides guidance on the many practicalities of setting up a database. This includes how to organise your database, including anonymising data and coding, as well as preparing and describing your data so it is ready for analysis. The critical matter of the ethics of using databases in medical educational research, including using routinely collected data versus data collected for research purposes, and issues of confidentiality, is discussed. Core to the Guide is drawing out the similarities and differences in working with different types of data and different types of databases. Future AMEE Guides in the research series will address statistical analysis of data in more detail.