# The pure and simple logic of building extraordinary tables

Applies to
Microsoft Office Word 2003
 This article was excerpted from Microsoft® Office Document Designer by Stephanie Krieger. Visit Microsoft Learning to buy this book and CD set, which includes the Microsoft Office Document Designer tool kit.

Introduction

Table Properties dialog box, Table tab

Table Properties dialog box, Row tab

Table Properties dialog box, Column tab

Table Properties dialog box, Cell tab

## Introduction

Newton, D'Alembert, Kant, Einstein, Mr. Spock…any great logician would be awed by the elegant, simple logic of the Table Properties dialog box. But you don't have to be a great philosopher, mathematician, or fictional alien to make this little marvel work for you! The Table Properties dialog box boils down most of what you can do to a table's structure into simple arithmetic.

Sure, you could get away with never opening Table Properties and still use Word tables somewhat. But you'll love the extra options, timesavers, and great results you can get from a few clicks through this powerhouse of a dialog box. And while much of Table Properties might seem obvious, you'll be surprised at the superb timesaving tricks you can find in the most unexpected places!

What might you want to know, for example, about the apparently obvious table width setting on the Table tab of Table Properties? You can measure your table width in your primary unit of measure (i.e., inches, millimeters, etc.) or in percents. Using percents to measure your table width can save a lot of editing time. Let's say you need a table to be about three-quarters the width of your page. You could calculate how many inches that would be and type that into table width. But if the margins or the page orientation change, you'll have to resize the table again. Instead, just type in 75 percent for table width and regardless of what happens to your page, that table will remain at 75 percent of the width between the page margins.

Note   For any math-phobics reading this, please rest easy! Yours truly dropped pre-calculus three times in high school and successfully avoided math until finally finding my math-mojo in grad school thanks to an awesome economics professor. So, I know where you're coming from. I promise you that if you can handle, for example, that 1 inch is 20 percent of 5 inches, that's just about as complex as this arithmetic has to get.

When you set table width, keep in mind that a percent width is the percent the table uses of its active window. In most cases, the window is just the space between the page margins. But if the table is placed in a text column, its window is the column in which it resides. If the table is nested into a cell of another table, its window is the cell in which it resides.

The top timesaving tips for each tab of the Table Properties dialog box follow.

## Table Properties dialog box, Table tab

Alignment To align the entire table on the page, you can select the entire table (on Table menu, point to Select, click Table) and use the paragraph alignment keyboard shortcut (CTRL+L for left, CTRL+E for center, CTRL+R for right) or the paragraph alignment buttons on the Formatting toolbar, instead of venturing into the Table Properties dialog box.

Be careful when using the Indent from left setting on the Table tab of the Table Properties dialog box. When you set an indent for the table, it doesn't resize the table to accommodate your indent, it pushes it to the right, which can push it past the page margin or even off the page.

Instead, just drag the left edge of the table to the right as much as you need (hold the ALT key to move smaller distances), and then readjust your column widths as appropriate.

Text wrapping

Avoid the urge to use Around (under Text wrapping) for the table. It is a cool feature, but tables with this formatting become floating objects, which makes them tougher to manage in the document.

Instead, use nested tables for placing tables and other content side by side. Check out the article "Never Leave the Nest!" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) for step-by-step, simple instructions.

If you pick up and move the table by the Table Move Handle in the upper-left corner of the table, "text wrapping around" is automatically enabled. Get more information on when to use and when to avoid the Table Move Handle in the tip sheet "Table Essentials: Essential Table Do's, Don'ts, and How To's" (Microsoft Office Document Designer).
Default cell margins

Each table cell acts like its own page in that it has top, bottom, left, and right margins. By default, top and bottom margins are zero, left and right margins are 0.08 inches (or 1.9mm).

You can change cell margins for all cells in the table through the Options button at the bottom of the Table tab of this dialog box. When you're using a table cell as a placeholder for other content (such as a graphic or a nested table), setting left and right margins to zero maximizes the room in your cell and lets your content fit snugly to the table layout.

Changing cell margins is not always the simplest solution for making the space you need!

For example, if you're using paragraph borders on your heading cells and want to increase the space between the borders of each column heading, changing paragraph indents is less work than changing cell margins. Paragraph borders in tables stretch by default from the left to the right cell margin, just as they stretch from the left to the right page margin in body text. When you adjust the left and right paragraph indents to increase space, you can add that setting to a paragraph style for consistency across multiple tables, allowing quick and easy updating, and you avoid having to go back and forth to Table Properties, Table, Options when trying to determine the right amount of space.

Default cell spacing

Spacing between cells is called cell padding in Web documents (HTML), and that's the purpose of this command.

Though you can use this feature in tables for Word documents without ill effect, it gives you less control than using cell margins and/or paragraph indents to manage the space between cells of your table, and it makes the tables more complicated to edit.

Because this is a Web feature, when tables are pasted from the Web into Word, they usually contain spacing between cells. Since tables pasted from the Web are a common troubleshooting issue in Word documents (when not pasted correctly), the existence of spacing between cells is a quick and easy way to spot that you probably have a Web table when trying to resolve issues in a problem document. Avoid using spacing between cells in your Word-based tables and you'll more easily be able to spot Web tables that require clean-up.

For more on resolving issues in Web tables, check out the tip sheet "Troubleshooting Stuff You Copy from the Web (Microsoft Office Document Designer).

Automatically resize to fit contents

This check box is selected by default for all tables, and accessible from the Table Options dialog box (click Options at the bottom of the Table tab).

When you're not sure of the table space or layout you need, it's a nice helper. But, when you're using the table as a layout or placeholder for other content, it's a good idea to clear this check box, so that you stay in control of the width of your table.

Note that this option toggles between the options AutoFit to Window and Fixed Column Width (on the Table menu, point to AutoFit).

It's also important to note that if you clear this check box and then use the AutoFit to Window command, this check box is automatically reselected.

Fixed Column Width doesn't mean that the column widths can't be changed. Rather, it means that Word won't automatically change the column widths when the table is moved or otherwise altered, but you can still change them. The command is on or off for an entire table, so selecting columns isn't necessary.

## Table Properties dialog box, Row tab

Row height settings At least vs. Exactly

When you drag the bottom of a row to resize it, row height is automatically set, and the setting option will be at least the height you set. On the Row tab of this dialog box, you can specify whether the height you set is a minimum for the row (At least) or precisely the measurement you want (Exactly).

Avoid row height Exactly unless you need to constrain the height of your table, as any text or other content that exceeds the height of a row set to Exactly will be hidden.

Before setting any row height, decide if that is the most efficient option for the formatting you want. Often, adding paragraph spacing before or after the content of each row can be a simpler, more precise, and easier-to-edit solution.
Allow row to break across pages

If you place a page break inside a table, it actually breaks the table in two. When that happens, heading rows set to repeat won't continue to repeat past the page break, and table formatting you apply won't be applied past the page break.

Instead, to control how your content breaks, clear the Allow row to break across pages check box on the Row tab of the Table Properties dialog box.

Keep in mind that this is a setting you can apply to only some rows in your table, as needed. Select the rows for which you want to disable this setting, or use the Previous Row and Next Row buttons to cycle through the table and find the applicable rows. To quickly apply this setting to the entire table, select the table before opening the dialog box.
Heading Rows Repeat Instead of venturing into the Table Properties dialog box to set repeating heading rows, select this command directly on the Table menu. Just be sure to select at least one cell in each row you want to repeat, and include the top row of the table in your selection.

Tip    If your heading rows are set to repeat but don't repeat across all pages, check for page breaks, section breaks, column breaks, or paragraph marks in the middle of your table.

None of these formatting marks are actually in the middle of a table when one appears between table pieces. The existence of any of these between parts of a table actually separates the table in two. Heading rows can't be carried across multiple tables.

## Table Properties dialog box, Column tab

Preferred width

I loved the name "preferred" column width when this feature first appeared in Word 2000. It seemed as though Word was saying, "You tell me your preference, I'll consider it…and then I'll do what I want!" Of course, Word is a far more logical creature than that, and there is a simple answer to what might seem to be inconsistency in this command's behavior.

First, it's important to know that when you see a column width in this dialog box, it includes the left and right cell margins. When you view column width on the ruler bar, that measurement does not include the cell margins.

Second, Word can't bow to your wishes here if, for example, you tell a table that's set to 4 inches wide to have a column that's 5 inches wide. Your settings must fit the available space, or Word will adjust them accordingly.

Keep in mind that you can set column width in your primary unit of measure or in percents, just like table width. This is great if you want, for example, to ensure that noncontiguous columns of a table remain equal width without having to put your math hat on and calculate the width of each. Just choose a percent for each of the columns that are to be identical, and the remainder of the table will adjust automatically.

Tip    The Previous and Next commands on the Row and Column tabs of Table Properties can be terrific tools. Use them to cycle through all rows and columns in your table and set or confirm each setting as you go. The best thing about Previous and Next is that the settings you make will update as you switch rows or columns, so you can see your changes as you make them and do needed adjustments without having to switch between the table and the dialog box.

## Table Properties dialog box, Cell tab

Preferred width If you have split or merged cells in a column, you'll see that preferred column width is unavailable. In that case, use preferred cell width instead to set the width of cells that are not equal throughout a column.

Since there is no Previous or Next button on the Cell tab of this dialog box, when you need to change column width for part of the column it's usually a lot faster to split the table just below (or above) the portion of the column you need to set, then set the width you need on the Column tab, and rejoin the table.

To split a table, just place your insertion point in the row below where you want the split and select Split Table on the Table menu. All this does is place a paragraph mark between the two table pieces. When you're ready to rejoin the table, just delete that paragraph mark.

Set Cell margins for only part of the table

When you go to the Options dialog box in Table Properties, be aware of whether you've selected Options from the Table tab or the Cell tab.

In the Options dialog box available from the Cell tab, you can still change margins, but they will change only for selected cells.

Changing cell margins only for some cells of the table is often a more complicated solution than needed because it can make editing the table confusing later on. Instead, consider whether paragraph indents can do the trick for the formatting you need.

About the author    Stephanie Krieger is a Microsoft MVP, professional consultant, trainer, and writer who specializes in creating solutions with the Microsoft Office System. She helps clients customize software and design templates and also provides train-the-trainer services.

Applies to:
Word 2003