Tables are a Word tool that everyone needs to use at some point to organize otherwise unruly text and numbers. From timetables to rosters to invoices to calendars, all kinds of projects are based on tables.
Although tables are simple to create in Word, you can do lots of things with them. When you need to total a column of numbers in a table, don’t bother fetching a calculator—let Word add them automatically. If your tables span multiple pages, don’t painstakingly add the column headings to each page—make Word do it for you. In this article I’ll show you ten secrets for working with tables in Microsoft Word.
1. Have Word Do the Math
If you need to total a column of figures in a table, Microsoft Word can do the math. Once you’ve drawn the table, click in a cell in a column of numbers where you want the column total to appear. Go to Table Tools > Layout, and click Formula. If =SUM(ABOVE) does not automatically appear in the Formula dialog box’s Formula field, type it there. Select a format from the ‘Number format’ list—I chose #,##0 to get a whole number result—and click OK. Word will automatically insert the total into the cell.
If you later change any of the values that contribute to the total, click in the cell where the formula field code resides and press F9. You can also press Ctrl-A to select the entire document and then press F9 to update all of the field codes in the document.
2. Place Table Headings on Every Page
When you have a large table that spans multiple pages, it’s useful to make the table’s heading rows repeat at the top of each page. This arrangement ensures that anyone viewing a page can see clearly what each column contains without having to refer back to the top of the table.
First select the heading rows to be repeated. You can select multiple rows, but they must be consecutive and they must appear at the top of the table. In the Table Tools > Layout tab, click Repeat Header Rows.
You won’t necessarily see any immediate difference in your table when you do this; but once the table grows beyond one page, the heading rows will automatically repeat at the top of each subsequent page.
3. Create Business Cards and Name Badges
You might be surprised to learn that you can easily lay out business cards and name badges using Word tables. You must first determine which paper stock to use, so that the table will print correctly.
In Word, you configure business cards and name badges the same way you do sheets of sticky labels, so start with a new empty Word document and click Mailings > Start Mail Merge > Labels. In the Label Options dialog box, select the type of printer you’re using, the label vendor, and then the product number (the ‘Product number’ list includes not only labels but also business-card stock and name badges). Your label manufacturer might not be on the list; in that case, look over the label packet to see if it claims to have a similar layout to another manufacturer’s product, and tell Word to use that product number instead. If you cannot find a match anywhere, click New Label and configure the settings for your paper.
Once you’ve selected the correct paper, click OK; a new table will appear in your document. The table layout will match the layout of your paper stock, but the gridlines you see won’t print. Create your business cards or name badges, one per cell table, and print them on your paper stock.
Next Page: Make Table Rows the Same Height
4. Make All Table Rows of Equal Height
If a table has all of the same type of data in it, you might want to format it to make the rows the same height. If you wish, start by dragging the bottom border of the table to the position where the table should end. For example, you could drag the bottom border up until it’s just above the footer area, so that the table will fill the page. Alternatively, you could drag the bottom border down a little to make the table a bit larger, so that you have some extra space that you can use to resize the rows.
Now select the entire table or a series of rows, and make them all the same height by right-clicking and choosing Distribute RowsEvenly. Word will adjust each selected row, and the table will consume the entire area down to where you dragged its bottom border. You can render selected columns of equal width using a similar process.
5. Break a Table in Two or Fuse Two Tables Together
When you want to break a table into two pieces, either by splitting it at a certain row or by removing a few rows and making a new table from them, you can use a handy keystroke. Start by selecting all the rows that you want to move to a second table, and then press Shift-Alt-Down Arrow (or Shift-Alt-Up Arrow, depending on the direction you want to move in) to start moving the selected rows through the table. As soon as the rows reach the top (or bottom) of the table, they’ll break away and form a second, independent table.
Likewise, to fuse two tables into one, you can select all the rows in one table and press Shift-Alt-Up Arrow or Shift-Alt-Down Arrow to move the rows up or down until they join up with another table.
6. Place Two Tables Side by Side
Word offers several ways to position two tables side by side on a page. If you need the tables to be formatted differently, create one or both inside a text box (because tables inside text boxes can sit anywhere on a page). To place a table in a text box, click Insert > Text Box > Draw Text Box, and draw a text box in the document. Click inside the box and add the table by clicking Insert > Table. You can remove the text-box border by clicking the text box, choosing Drawing Tools > Format > Shape Outline, and selecting No Outline. If you are having trouble placing a text box beside an existing table or beside another text box, click each text box in turn and choose Drawing Tools > Formattab > Wrap Text > In Front of Text.
Alternatively, if the two tables can share a general layout in terms of row height, you can create them as a single table and then place an empty column in the middle to provide visual separation.
7. Add an Image Inside a Table Cell
You can place an image inside a table cell so that it does not move. To do this, click in the table cell, choose Insert > Picture or Insert > Clip Art, and select the image to use. The default Word image format is In Line With Text, so the picture should stay in place; you’ll simply need to resize it to fit it inside the table cell. If the image is not stuck in the table cell, click it, choose Picture Tools > Format, and in the Wrap Text list choose In Line With Text.
8. Make Smart Headings for Narrow Columns
When you create a table with lots of columns, the columns could become extremely narrow in order to fit within the document’s margins. If you use long strings of text for column headings, they might become hyphenated beyond comprehension, or even truncated. The solution is to rotate that text. Select the cells containing the column headings, and choose Table Tools > Layout. Select Text Direction from the Alignment options, and click until the Ribbon image displays the text oriented in the appropriate direction (typically, pointing up). Now type the text into the heading cells in the table, and it will rotate and fit much better.
Next Page: Convert a Table to Text, and Vice Versa
9. Convert a Table to Text, and Vice Versa
If you have text in a table that you’d prefer to appear as regular text—if, say, you copied a table from a website and pasted it into a document—here’s an easy way to make the conversion. Select the table by clicking the icon outside its top-left corner, and choose Table Tools > Layout > Convert to Text. When prompted, choose to separate the text using paragraph marks, tabs, or some other character (paragraph marks is usually the best option), and click OK. Word will remove the table and convert the data to regular text.
Word also allows you to perform the opposite conversion, turning regular text into a table. Select the text and click Insert > Table > Convert Text to Table. Choose the number of columns for your table, and let Word automatically select the number of rows. Indicate whether to separate the text at paragraphs, commas, tabs, or another character (specify which character), and click OK. Once the data is in the table, you can rearrange it as you see fit.
10. Quickly Number Table Rows
You can number the rows in a table in such a way that they will automatically update if you add, move, or remove rows. Add a new column in which to place the numbers, select it (or select an existing column if you want to place numbers in front of the contents of each cell in that column), and click Home > Numbering.
Word will automatically number the cells in the table. If you move a row to a different position—if, for example, you use the Shift-Alt-Up Arrow or Shift-Alt-Down Arrow keystrokes—the row numbers will instantly update.
Bonus Table Tip
One confusing aspect of working with a table is deleting it when you no longer want it. To do this in one keystroke, click the indicator outside the top-left corner of the table and press the Backspace key.
Doing so deletes the entire table, contents and all, whereas pressing the Delete key simply removes the contents and leaves the table in place.