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Word: Using tables more efficiently

April 30, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my authors.

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We use tables in many of the Word documents we write. Most of the tips below refer to commands on the Table Tools > Layout ribbon:

tables_ribbon

  • Make the table fit the width of the page: Click anywhere in the table, go to the Table Tools > Layout ribbon, then click AutoFit > AutoFit Window.
  • Make selected columns the same width: Select the columns, go to the Table Tools > Layout ribbon, then click Distribute Columns.
  • Sort a table into alphabetical order by the first column (ideal for a list of terms): Click anywhere in the table, go to the Table Tools > Layout ribbon, then click Sort. By default, the sort options are by Column 1, Text, Ascending, and No Header Row, which is correct in most cases for a Terms list, so click OK.
  • Add a new row in between other rows: Select the row below where you want the new row, go to the Table Tools > Layout ribbon, then click Insert Above.
  • Show gridlines on a borderless table: It’s really hard to see where the table cells are in a borderless table, so turn on the gridlines so you can see where the edges are. Click anywhere in the table, go to the Table Tools > Layout ribbon, then click View Gridlines. This setting holds for all documents until you turn it off.
  • Force a row to NOT break over a page: Select the row that you don’t want to split onto the next page, right-click and select Table Properties, select the Row tab, then clear the Allow row to break across pages check box.
  • Make the top row a header row that flows onto the next page when the table splits across a page: Select the first row of the table (you might select more than one row, depending on your column headers and how they are arranged), go to the Table Tools > Layout ribbon, then click Repeat Header Rows.
  • Force a row to stay with its following row, even if there’s a page break: NOTE: Use this one carefully and ONLY where you really need it – don’t use it for every table/every row. Select the row you want to keep with the next row, go to the Home tab, click the tiny grey arrow at the bottom right of the Paragraph section (or press Alt+O+P) to open the Paragraph dialog box, go to the Line and Page Breaks tab, then select the Keep with next check box.
  • Move a table row up or down: You can quickly move one or more table rows up or down a table by pressing Shift+Alt and either the up or down arrow key

Some basics on selecting table elements with the mouse

  • Select the entire table: Move your cursor over the table until you see the 4-way arrow inside a small box at the top left of the table, then click this 4-way arrow. If this 4-way arrow disappears before you can click it, move your cursor away from the table, then back over it to see it again.
    tables_select_table
  • Select a column: Move your cursor to just above the column until it turns into a small black downward-pointing arrow, then click to select the column the arrow is pointing to. You can select more than one column by dragging immediately after clicking the first column.
    tables_select_column
  • Select a row: Move your cursor to the far left of the table (outside it), until it changes to a cursor arrow, then click to select the row the cursor arrow is pointing to. You can select more than one row by dragging immediately after clicking the first row.

tables_select_row

3 comments

  1. Thank you. A helpful summary. I sometimes have problems with text-to-table and vice versa functionality. Is there any known instability with this type of function?


  2. Hi Vern

    I’ve never had a problem with it, PROVIDED I have text or a table that’s properly ‘formatted’. By that I mean ONLY paragraph OR tab separators and ALWAYS the same number of each in the same location for each line of text for the text-to-table conversion. And for table to text conversion, a plain table with standard rows and columns (i.e. no merged rows/cells/columns).

    If you have anything else (e.g. 3 tabs between text and the next text, instead of 2) then it will go pear-shaped!

    –Rhonda


  3. Rhoda,
    Thanks for those ground rules. I’ve had trouble from time to time doing text-to-table and vice verse conversions. Now I’ll know what to watch out for.
    Mary



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