The Hermit Hermit's Free Library  MS-Word

This article explains how tables can be used not only to present information but also to a) arrange graphics and text in sophisticated layouts, and b) manipulate and transform information by converting it between lists and tables and tables and lists. It also covers the many formatting options available for tables and gives simple methods for re-arranging both table structure and table contents.

Making Tables Sing and Dance

      ** Word exercises 3-1, 3-2, 3-3, 3-4, and 3-5: Explore text 
         transformations using tables 

Tables Versus Tabs

Because tabs can be set to a specific, unvarying width, they were used in early word processing as a way to obtain uniform distance when spacing text horizontally into columns.

Because the width of tabs does not vary, they are better for creating columns than spaces, because spaces vary in width when using proportionately-spaced typeface.

In modern word processing, however, tabs have been surpassed by tables as a way to create tabular data. Tabs should be considered obsolete because tables do such a superior job (Walkenbach 133).

Advantages of tables over tabs include:

  • Easier to create
  • Easier to modify and maintain
  • Many borderline styles available (or none at all)
  • Flexibility in formatting rows, columns, and cells independently
  • Uses for Tables

    Like styles, tables are an under-utilized word processing feature. Tables are commonly used to present information, but their roles in text layout and time-saving transformations are often overlooked.

    Uses for tables include:

  • Present
  • Display complex information in clear ways
  • Compare
  • Make clear comparisons of information
  • Layout
  • Position text and graphics with precision
  • Shepard
  • Transfer information from one program to another
  • Transform
  • Change order and change how information appears

    Present and Compare

    Presentations and comparisons of information are the most common uses of tables. Row and column spacing, shading, and alignment, and table border styles all play important roles in creating table layouts that achieve the clear and effective communication of information.

    See Working with Tables below.


    Tables make it possible to position and display graphics and text in a document in ways otherwise un-achievable.

    By merging, splitting, and re sizing table cells, graphics and text can be arranged into any size and shape to create imaginative and interesting layouts.

    The following layout uses a table with six cells. Without borders, the table is invisible, but it's structure keeps everything in place.

          ** Word lab 4-4: Using a table as a page layout tool 

    Shearing Data

    Every application program has its own general specialty: words, numbers, graphics, etc. And so it follows that different programs have different "tool sets".

    Sometimes we can shepard our data from one program to another in order to use a specialized tool there.

    Look at the following example of a document containing a long list of names and dates:

            Stewart, James, 05-20-1908
            Grable, Betty, 12-18-1916
            Wayne, John, 05-26-1907
            Fonda, Henry, 05-16-1905
            Reed, Donna, 01-27-1921

    What if we needed to convert those dates to appear in the form, May 20, 1908 instead of 05-20-1908.

    Word won't help us, because although it provides a choice of formats when inserting dates, once dates are entered there is no way to change them.

    An Excel spreadsheet, on the other hand, can transform dates into another format anytime you like.

    Our data is in one program, the tool we need is in another.

    Solution? Shepard the data from Word over to Excel. How can we send the list on a round-trip to Excel and back? Using a table.

    Convert the list to a table and Copy and Paste it into Excel. There, change the date format. Then Copy and Paste back to Word and convert the table back into a list.

    Sound complicated? It's not, a few keystrokes and clicks and the work is done.

    Transforming Data

    Supposing we needed to transpose the last names and first names in the list that we looked at above.

    Cut and paste is out of the question because the list is two pages long. It would not only be time-consuming and tedious, it could also damage body parts!

    However, after converting the list to a table, it would only take one little mouse drag to transpose the last and first name columns. Just three more clicks to convert the table back into a list and, again, the job is done.

    Lists, Tables, and Delimiters

    The secret to converting information back and forth between tables and text in order to shepard and transform it lies in delimiters.

    A delimiter is a symbol which marks the boundary between two distinct pieces of information.

    For example, in our list of names and dates, the specific pieces of information are delimited from each other by commas.

    The structure provided by the commas separates last name from first name from birth date in the same way as columns in a table would.

    The most frequently used delimiters are commas and tabs, but any character can potentially be used to separate pieces of information and therefore also as the basis for converting back and forth between table and text.

    Working with Tables

    Table Structure and Table Content

    While working with tables it is useful to keep in mind that every table actually has two parts: its structure, and its content.

    Table structure is the intersection of rows and columns: cells. Table content is information contained within the structure.

    Table structure and table content can be created, deleted, and modified independently of one another.

    Creating Tables

    The two approaches to creating tables are to insert the table structure first and then add the information, or, to enter the information and then convert it into a table.

    Insert Table

    The first method is the most common. To insert a table structure this way, go to the Insert tab >Tables group >Tables menu, and use the "Insert Table" command.

    A couple of tips on using Insert Table:

    Convert Text to Table

    The other way to create a table is to first enter the information, including delimiters, and then convert the text to a table using "Convert text to table" (Insert tab > Table group >Insert Table menu).

    This method is especially useful for creating a table from information which has been Copied and Pasted from another source. Often, delimiters are included with the information, while other times they must first be inserted using the keyboard.

    How how to convert a list (text) to a table

    Converting Table to Text

    The converse of converting text to a table is converting a table to text.

    Besides converting back and forth between text and tables in order to shepard or transform information, there are situations in which it is desirable to convert a table to text.

    One example would be information Copied and Pasted from web pages. Most web pages use one or more tables for layout. It's often necessary to eliminate such layout tables by converting to text in a word processor.

    How how to convert a table to text (list)

    Selecting in Tables

    Use the techniques described below to select parts of tables.

    Selection Technique
  • Cell and Cell Contents
  • Triple-click in Cell
  • Cell Contents only
  • Triple-click in Cell, press Shift-LeftArrow
  • An Entire Row
  • Click the Selection Bar to left of row
  • An Entire Column
  • Hover mouse over column and left-click when Column Selector () appears
  • An Entire Table
  • Hover mouse over table, left-click Table Selector Handle () when it appears
    (Must be in Print Layout view)

    Deleting Tables and Table Contents

    To delete only the contents of cells, rows, or columns, select the cells, rows, or columns and then press the Del key. The cells, rows, or columns themselves remain, but their contents are deleted.

    If you want to delete rows or columns themselves from a table (including their contents) select them and then press the Backspace key.

    Formatting Tables

    Following are descriptions of the various ways in which tables and the information they contain can be formatted.

    Table Borders

    Table borders can be applied independently to various parts of a table. Table cells can have any combination of horizontal and vertical borders or no borders at all.

    As already mentioned, borderless tables can be used to invisibly position graphics and text in a document.

    To apply borders, select all or part of a table and then select a border style from the Borders menu:

    Keep in mind that sometimes less is more. Combinations of fewer border elements can create a less cluttered and sometimes more sophisticated appearance than "All Borders".

    Borders applied to a table appear in all screen views as well as on the printed page.

    Table Styles

    Another approach to applying table borders and shading is to use the Table Styles. Table styles are pre-set combinations of borders and shading of alternate rows and/or columns. Alternate bands of shading make it easier to find and keep a place in large tables.

    Note that the shading colors of table styles change according which theme is selected for the document.

    Table Gridlines

    Gridlines are broken blue lines which outline a table and its cells. Their purpose is to serve as guides when working with borderless tables.

    Gridlines are turned on or off using the View Gridlines button:

    Table gridlines never print. When turned on they appear in all screen views except Print Preview.

    Selecting and Re sizing Tables

    In Print Layout view, the table selection and re sizing handles appear when you hover the mouse above a table.

    In Print Layout view, click on the table selection handle to select the entire table.

    Also in Print Layout, you can resize rows and/or columns by dragging the table resize handle. The resize handle is the small square in the lower right-hand corner of the table.

    Selecting and Adjusting Table Rows and Columns

    The easiest way to select rows is to single-click in the Selection Bar for one, or drag down in the Selection bar for multiple rows.

    To adjust height for one row, left-drag its row boundary. To adjust height of all rows at once, left-drag the Table resize handle up or down.

    To select a column, hover above the top of the column until the mouse pointer appears and then left-click. Repeat to select multiple columns.

    To resize a column in either Normal or Print Layout view, hover the mouse over the right column border until the resize icon appears and then left drag the column border.

    Here are a couple of tips for working with table column width:

    Adjusting Table Row Height

    Row height can be adjusted by dragging the bottom border, but only in Print Layout view. You can also use Table Properties to manually set row height to a specific measurement:

    1. Right click in the row
    2. Click Table Properties in the shortcut menu
    3. Select the Row tab and specify a height

    When text typed into a cell exceeds the cell's width, that row's height automatically increases and the text is wrapped to a new line within the cell.

    Merging and Splitting Table Cells

    Rows, columns, and/or cells can be merged (combined) or split (sub-divided).

    Select the cells, rows, or columns of interest and then click on the appropriate button in the Merge group of the Tables Tools Layout Tab.

    Merging cells to customize table structure is one way to create interesting layouts of text and/or graphics.

    Aligning Tables Between Margins

    Tables can be left- or right-aligned or centered between document margins:

    1. Select the table
    2. Right-click on it
    3. Click "Table Properties" in the shortcut menu
    4. Select the Table tab
    5. In the Alignment section, pick one

    A big advantage of centering a table this way is that even if margins are changed the table automatically "floats" between them.

    Multiple Text Alignments on the Same Row

    Use a one-row, three-column table with no borders to achieve multiple text alignments on the same line. Use the technique above to align the table between the left and right margins.


    While a similar effect can be achieved using tabs, tabs are static and they would have to be manually adjusted if margins are changed.

    Vertical and Horizontal Alignment in Table Cells

    Text in cells can be aligned both vertically and horizontally using combinations of left, right or centered horizontal alignment, and top, bottom, or centered vertical alignment:

    Text Orientation in Table Cells

    Select a cell and then click the Text Direction tool multiple times to cycle through the three possible orientations of text within a cell: horizontal, vertical up, or vertical down.

    Nested Tables

    Tables can be nested, i.e. tables can be inserted inside of tables inside of tables.

    While this technique can achieve specialized effects, it should not be used casually because it complicates global formatting as each table must be dealt with separately.

    Moving Things Around in Tables

    When it comes to presenting information effectively, the order in which information appears in a table can be just as important as the table formatting. The following sections describe how to change the order of information in rows and in columns.

    Moving Table Rows Up or Down

    The outlining Move Up/Down commands can be used to shift table rows up or down.

    Select one or more rows using the Selection Bar and then move them with Shift-Alt-Up-Arrow or Shift-Alt-Down-Arrow.

    Moving Table Columns Left or Right

    Here's how columns can be transposed:

    1. Select a column by hovering the mouse pointer above the table's top border and left-clicking when the pointer turns to the column selector

      (Additional columns can be selected by dragging or by holding down Ctrl and clicking)

    2. When one or more columns are selected, move the mouse pointer to anywhere inside the column
    3. Hold down the left mouse button and begin dragging
    4. As you drag, a small, gray, dotted rectangle appears
    5. Drag the rectangle to another column and release the mouse button
    6. The column is moved

    If you don't get the result you anticipated, press Ctrl-Z and try again. With a bit of practice you'll get complete control of the method.

    Moving Table Cell Contents

    Moving content from one cell to another can be accomplished using Cut and Paste, but the fastest, easiest way is to Drag- and-Drop.

    Drag-and-Drop is enabled or disabled using:

    Once Drag and Drop is activated, simply left-drag selected text to another cell and drop it there.

    Sorting Table Rows

    Table rows can be sorted using the Sort button in the Paragraph group of the Home tab.

    If you apply bolding to the header (top) row, you can select the entire table and Word will exclude that row from the sorting operation, otherwise be sure to select all rows except the header row before sorting.

    How how to sort a table