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How to create and customize tables in Microsoft Word

Creating tables in Microsoft Word used to be so annoying that most people just did it in Excel, then imported it into Word. It's worth giving Word 2013's table tools a try, though, because the process is easier, and there are some new graphical options. 

Seven ways to create tables

Microsoft now provides five different methods for creating tables: the Graphic Grid, Insert Table, Draw Table, insert a new or existing Excel Spreadsheet table, and Quick Tables, plus an option for converting existing text into a table. To start, open a blank Word document from the Home/New page. Position your cursor in the document where you want the table inserted.

Graphic Grid/Select Table from Graph

Under the Insert tab, click the Table button. The Insert Table dialog box will open, showing a basic grid pattern as well as traditional menu options below it. Place your cursor on the first cell in the grid and slide it down and over until you highlight (for this example) four columns and five rows, then click once.

Notice that once the table is created, a new option called Table Tools appears on the Ribbon bar with two new tabs: Design and Layout. See the Layout and Design section below for details regarding these options.

f1 insert table grid

Create a new table using the graphical grid.

Insert Table

Click Insert > Tables > Insert Table from the dropdown menu. In the Insert Table dialog box, enter the number of columns and rows you want in this table (four columns and five rows). In the AutoFit Behavior panel, select Auto, or click the down arrow to choose a specific size. You can also choose AutoFit to Contents (produces narrow columns that expand as you add data) or AutoFit to Window (expands the table to fit the document size). Check the Remember Dimensions for New Tables box if you want the sizes you’re entering now to become your defaults for future tables.

f2 insert table insert table

Create a new table using Insert Table.

Draw Table

Click Insert> Tables > Draw Table. The cursor turns into a pencil, which you drag down and across to draw a box. Don’t worry about the exact dimensions; you can modify it any time.

Once the box is created, position the cursor inside the box and draw lines over and down for the columns and rows (one at a time). Don’t worry about crooked lines, either—Word straightens them as you draw.

To add or remove columns and/or rows later, click anywhere inside the table, then select the Design tab under Table Tools. Click the Draw Table button to add or continue drawing lines with your pencil cursor, or click the Eraser button to remove lines with the eraser cursor. To remove a line, just touch the line with the eraser cursor, and the line disappears.

f3 insert table draw table

Create a new table using Draw Table.

Excel Spreadsheet (create In Word)

Click Insert > Tables > Excel Spreadsheet. An Excel spreadsheet inserts at your cursor location. You can continue using Excel and its menus and commands, but after you enter your data it converts to a non-editable graphic.

If you want to add, delete, or modify the spreadsheet, right-click anywhere inside the worksheet graphic, select Worksheet Object from the dropdown menu, then click Edit. The original spreadsheet reappears for editing. Notice the top menu has changed to an Excel menu for edits.

Also from the Worksheet Object dropdown menu, you can click Open to open the spreadsheet in Excel, so you can manipulate it in that program. Or click Convert to view a Windows dialog box that lists file-conversion options.

f4 insert table excel spreadsheet

Create a new table using Excel Spreadsheet.

Excel Spreadsheet (copy and paste existing worksheet)

In the old days, Excel spreadsheets had to be imported into Word. Now you can just copy and paste. Open Excel, highlight the spreadsheet, and copy it. Then open Word, position your cursor at the desired location, and select Paste > Keep Source Formatting.

The other options on the Paste dialog menu are Merge Formatting, which changes the text format to match the file into which you pasted the spreadsheet, and Keep Text Only, which pastes the text without the Excel grid, meaning you will likely have to realign your columns with tabs.

f5 copy paste excel spreadsheet

Copy and paste an existing table from Excel.

Quick Tables

Quick Tables are Word’s table templates. In addition to the nine templates provided, you can create your own designs and save them to the Quick Tables Gallery to use later. Click Insert > Tables > Quick Tables. Select a table template from the Quick Tables menu, then modify it to fit your project. 

f6 insert table quick tables

Create a new table using Quick Tables.

Convert Text to Table

The table tools can also make lists a lot easier to customize and even reorganize later. For our example, we'll turn a classic contact list into a table, using a list of names—first, middle, last—plus the city, state, region, and profession of each person on the list.

For eons, people have used tabs to separate the fields, adding a tab or two to accommodate longer strings of data. But if you do this, when you convert the table to text, it misplaces all the data.

With the Convert Text to Table feature, you can separate the fields (Name, City, State, etc.) with paragraphs, tabs, commas, or other separator character, but use only one separator between each field.

f8 comma separatedhighlighted

Convert an existing block of text to a table.

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