Working with Tables in Word 2003

By Helen Bradley | Posted October 22, 2007

Word tables provide a simple way to present information in a small space and in a readable format. After all, we’re used to reading table data in everything from train timetables to bank statements. Tables are a key feature of Microsoft Word, which includes lots tools that help you add functionality to your tables and work with them more effectively.

Draw tables screen shot
The Draw table button on the Tables and Borders toolbar lets you draw borders to split cells in two.
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Designing Tables
Regardless of how you create a table in Word, you can use the table drawing tools to edit it. With your table selected, click the Tables and Borders button on the Standard toolbar to display the Tables and Borders toolbar. To add lines to your table, click the Draw Table button and draw horizontal and vertical lines to split table cells in two or draw diagonal lines across a cell. To join two or more cells to make one large cell select the Eraser tool and draw across the line between the cells.

Table Headings
When you have a table with lots of narrow columns, it can be difficult to use long headings because they don’t display properly. The Tables and Borders toolbar includes a Change Text Direction button which lets you rotate the text in a cell so that it appears either horizontal or in one of two vertical directions. Choose one of the vertical options to rotate even very long column headings to fit a narrow column width.
Adjust width screen shot
Holding the Alt key as you drag on a column border shows you the current width of the column.
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If a table consumes more than one page of your document it is useful to have the table headings repeated at the top of the second and subsequent pages so you can read the headings once you print the document. To do this, select the table rows that comprise the table headings and choose Table > Heading Rows Repeat. Now the selected rows appear at the top of the table on each subsequent page.

Selecting Table Elements
Knowing how to select the various parts of a table in order to make changes is a tricky aspect of working with tables. In addition, some table options work differently depending on whether a cell is selected or not. For example, if you have a cell selected and you adjust the divider between it and the next cell only this one cell’s divider moves and not the border for the entire column. So, to adjust a column’s width, make sure you haven't selected any cells before you drag its left hand border.

Autofit screen shot
The AutoFit options let you adjust a series of rows or columns to the same height.
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When you first begin working with tables, selecting what you need to work with can be difficult until you discover where to hold your mouse pointer. To select a cell, hold the mouse pointer over its bottom right corner until it changes to a black angled arrow, click once to select that cell or click-and-drag to select multiple cells.

To select a row, position the mouse pointer in the margin well to the left of the row until it shows as a large hollow arrow and click to select the row or click and drag to select multiple rows. To select an entire column, hold the mouse pointer above the top border of the column until it turns into a black down-pointing arrow and click once to select the column or click-and-drag to select adjacent columns.

To select the entire table, place the mouse pointer over the top left corner of the table until a small box with a double-headed arrow in it appears. Click this icon to select the table.  With the table selected, you can drag to move the table or, to delete the table, press the Backspace key. It’s helpful to note that pressing the Delete key deletes the table contents while leaving the table in place, and pressing the Backspace key deletes the entire table.

Numbering screen shot
Use the Numbering button on the Formatting toolbar to number table cells.
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Working with Rows and Columns
To add a column to a table, click at the top of the table just to the right of the last cell where the mouse pointer shows as a black down-pointing arrow. This selects the invisible markers at the end of each table row and displays the Insert Columns button on the Standard toolbar. Click this button to add a column. To add a row to a table, click in its bottom right cell and hit the Tab key.

When adjusting the width of a column, you can read the column width from the ruler by holding the Alt key as you drag on the column’s right border.

When you need a series of columns or rows to be the same height or width, first select the columns or rows to alter and drag the right-most or bottom border to the point where you want the table to extend. Now choose Table > AutoFit > Distribute Rows Evenly or Distribute Columns Evenly and the table rows or columns will readjust accordingly to even widths or heights. This is much quicker than trying to set each column or row height individually.

Align table screen shot
Use the Table Properties dialog to align your table on the page.
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When you need to reorder the rows in the table, you can do so with a simple keystroke combination. Click in the row you want to move or select multiple rows and hold the Shift + Alt keys while you click the Up or Down arrow keys. This moves the selected row or rows up or down the table. If you move a table row to the bottom or top of the table and keep pressing, the row will split away from the table to form a second table.

When you need to number rows in a table, use the paragraph numbering tool. To do this, select the column that will hold the numbered cells and click the Numbering button on the Formatting toolbar. Numbers are automatically added to the cells and -- if they contain content -- the numbering appears before each cell entry. If you alter the position of a row in the table, the numbering readjusts automatically.

Create borders screen shot
One option for creating borders around cells in your table is to draw them using the Tables and Borders toolbar.
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Positioning Your Table
When your table isn’t as wide as the page, you can adjust its positioning on the page and how text wraps around it. For example, to center the table between the left and right margins, select the table using the marker in its top left corner and choose Table > Table Properties > Table tab. Select the Center option and then select how text should wrap around the table. When you select the Around option, click the Positioning button to fine tune the text wrapping options as well as to configure the distance between the table and the surrounding text.

Working with Table Borders
To adjust the table borders, select the borders you want to work with or select the entire table and choose Format > Borders and Shading > Borders tab. Select the border options and, from the Apply to list, select either Table or Cells depending on what you want to format. Then click OK to apply the changes. If you find this dialog confusing (and it is a little), use the options on the Tables and Borders toolbar to select the line style and color you want and then use the Draw Table button to draw the desired line style onto the table.

Images in tables screen shot
Images can be constrained to a table cell using the Text Wrapping tools.
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Images in Tables
When you’re working with images in tables, you can constrain the image so it stays inside the table cell. To do this, click in the cell to place the image, choose Insert > Picture and then choose the ClipArt or From File option. Select the image to add to the table cell – by default it is added with the In-line with text layout. You can change this so that text in the table cell wraps around the image by choosing either the Square, Tight, Through, or Top and Bottom option from the Text Wrapping dropdown list. All these options constrain the image so it stays in the table cell. The options Behind Text and In Front of Text break the image out of the table so it either floats below or above it.

Tables are an extremely powerful feature in Microsoft Word. Getting to know how to use and work with them is a handy skill in just about any office.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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