Tips, tricks, and problem-solving for tables

Applies to
Microsoft Office Word 2003
Book image This article was adapted 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 (MODD) Tool Pack.

In this article


Troubleshooting table errors

Tips and tricks for simply fabulous tables


If you've used the other "How do I" tip sheets and articles on tables (Microsoft® Office Document Designer), you know that tables are my absolute favorite tool for building documents in Word. They're superb document tools because of their organizing ability and their flexibility. But mostly, tables are the greatest document tool in Word because they simplify so much of what you can do in documents!

Simplify is the key word when it comes to any work in tables, even troubleshooting the table itself. You can bet that if your solution seems like a lot of work, there is a better way! The table that follows provides quick answers to common table troubleshooting issues, and the second table provides my favorite tips for quick and easy table editing solutions.

Troubleshooting table errors

The issue How to resolve it Why it happens
Random borders appear on my table. Just page down so that the table isn't in your view and then page back to your table. The borders aren't really there, and the appearance of them will go away when you refresh the view.

This is a known issue in Word tables since Microsoft Office 2000. Borders appear to be on your table that you didn't apply and that don't print. They're just screen junk, not actually borders at all.

 Important   If the unwanted borders print, this isn't the issue. When printable unwanted borders appear on a table (i.e., a new table, a newly pasted table, or a table that's had rows or columns added or removed), the issue is Table Styles. See the item Use Table Styles to save time below.

The error message "A table in this document has become corrupt…" appears when the document is opened.

First of all, the error message recommends converting the table to text as one of your options, but please don't do this! You'll end up spending so much time trying to recreate your formatting, and you still might not get rid of the corruption — because the corruption is as likely to lie in the table's content as in its structure!

Instead, close the document and open it again using the Open and Repair feature in Word:

On the File menu, in the Open dialog box, select the document and then select Open and Repair from the drop-down list available at the Open command button.

When the document opens, a dialog box will appear to show you the repairs the document has made. Don't worry about what's listed in that dialog box, even if the list is long. Just close it and then save the document to make the repairs permanent.

The most common causes of table corruption in Word documents are tables improperly pasted from the Web and tables that use the Text Wrapping, Around feature in Table Properties (Table menu).

For help troubleshooting issues caused by Web content in your Word documents, check out the tip sheet "You Don't Know Where It's Been! Troubleshooting Stuff You Copy from the Web" (Microsoft Office Document Designer).

When you need content beside a table, nest tables instead of clicking Text wrapping and Around. For instructions on creating and managing nested tables, check out the article "Never Leave the Nest!" (Microsoft Office Document Designer).

More info: If the Open and Repair tool sounds too good to be true, it almost is! This tool is a lifesaver that can resolve many document stability issues. Check out the tip sheet "Common Document Errors: Their Causes and Simple Solutions" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) for more information on this fantastic tool!

There's a frame around my table.


The document crashes when I click into the table.


The content of my table looks garbled!

For any of the three issues at left, first follow the instructions for using Open and Repair. This will make it possible to access most any table that crashes a document, and will enable you to fix the other issues as well.

Once you've saved the changes after running Open and Repair, click into the table and, on the Table menu, click Table Properties. On the Table tab, select None under Text wrapping and then click OK. If content that was beside your table now moves above or below it, see the article "Never Leave the Nest!" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) for instructions on nesting tables, which offers a simpler solution for getting tables side-by-side with other content in your documents.

If a visible frame still remains, right-click the frame and select Format Frame. In the Format Frame dialog box, click Remove Frame.

The Around option, available under Text wrapping (Table Properties dialog box, Table tab) or by clicking and dragging the table with the Table Move Handle, has most likely been turned on for this table. While this is a cool feature, it makes the table behave like a floating graphic object — and that can be difficult to manage in a document, causing these types of errors.

 Note    This feature causes the table to behave like a graphic because it places the table inside an invisible frame. A common occurrence when a table becomes unstable is for that frame to become visible.

When you need content beside a table, try nested tables instead, as referenced here.

When I try to add or remove columns, the table looks all out of whack! When removing a column causes this behavior, see Split the table for easy editing of its structure below. If inserting a column caused this behavior, see Use Draw Table to add columns or split cells.

When cells are merged across columns, adding or removing columns can seem hazardous, but have no fear!

You can split off the merged portions to make your edits and then rejoin the table portions in a cinch, or use Draw Table to add columns easily above or below merged cells. Remember, if your solution feels like a lot of work — there is a better way!

Tables that should be separate have become attached. Click into what should be the top row of the bottom table and then select Split Table from the Table menu.

Tables require a paragraph mark or a hard break (such as a page break or a column break) between them to keep them separate. In fact, when you use the instruction at left to split the tables, this command simply places a paragraph mark between the tables.

 Note    When a paragraph mark or hard break separates tables, they are independent tables. So, columns can't be selected past the separation, and heading rows won't repeat past the separation.

If you meant to nest one table inside the other and the tables became attached instead, type a single space or hard return inside the cell where you want to place the nested table before you paste. If this adds an unwanted return above the nested table, you can simply delete it after pasting the table.

Cell shading doesn't shade space before or after the paragraph.

Place extra paragraph spacing before or after in the cells above or below the affected cells as needed, instead of using space before and after in cells where this occurs. Or set Row Height to create the extra vertical space in the row instead of paragraph spacing before/after.

This issue will only occur in cells where paragraph borders and cell shading are used together.

This is a longstanding known issue in Word tables. To avoid it, you only need to avoid placing paragraph borders and shading in the same cell where space before or after paragraph formatting is used on the text.

Some, but not all, printers will correct for this issue. Because of that, don't leave this issue in your table even if you like the way it looks. Instead, create the same formatting using a method that you can be sure will consistently look the same regardless of how the document is viewed or printed.

It's never a good idea to depend on formatting you know to be unstable when it matters how your document looks!

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Tips and tricks for simply fabulous tables

The tool What it can do for you How to use it
Convert Text to Table

The Convert Text to Table command can be a great help whenever you need to organize existing document content into a complex layout or even just into columns. But this feature has more creative, timesaving uses as well.

For example, say you're responsible for tracking training costs in your company. You've kept a spreadsheet all year and submitted a report. Only, your data lists each employee's full name in one column, first name followed by last — and the finance department sent the report back, requesting that the names be listed last name, first name. Well, considering that your spreadsheet is 15 pages long, you can either look forward to a nice long night of retyping, or you can take a few steps using the Convert Table to Text/Text to Table commands and be outta there by happy hour!

To convert text to a table, you just need consistent characters to separate text where you want table columns and rows. For example, place a tab wherever a new column should start and a paragraph return where each row should start. Be sure to have an equal number of tab characters in each row and you'll get exactly what you want! Then, select the text to convert and click Insert Table Button image on the Standard toolbar (or, on the Table menu, point to Convert, click Text to Table, and click OK).

To use these conversion tools for reorganizing content, such as in the training cost report example here, check out the sample document you'll find at Table to text sample.doc in the MODD Samples folder (Microsoft Office Document Designer). The sample document will walk you through the steps of converting text for this purpose, using a small piece of the spreadsheet mentioned in this example.

Split the table for easy editing of its structure

When cells are merged across columns, deleting or moving a column below the merged cells can seem nearly impossible, causing your table structure to go absolutely haywire! Well, Word is just trying to do what you tell it to. Remember those merged cells belong to more than one column, so Word might be confused about exactly what you want to move or delete.

Instead, just split the table below the merged cells and you can edit as you need — move or delete complete columns, then readjust the portions and reconnect them! No fuss, no muss, no stress!

  1. Place your insertion point in the top row below the merged cells and select Split Table from the Table menu.
  2. Delete, move, or otherwise edit columns as needed.
  3. Resize columns as needed in the table portion above the split so that it aligns correctly with the revised structure on the bottom.

 Tip   Hold down the ALT key while resizing the top portion, to align the columns precisely with the table portion below the split.

  1. Delete the paragraph mark  between the portions of the table to reconnect them.

 Tip   If you can't see the paragraph mark that the split placed between the table portions, turn on your nonprinting characters by clicking the paragraph's Show/HideButton image button on the Standard toolbar.

Use Draw Table to add columns or split cells

Well, Draw Table isn't the most practical or efficient way to create a table, but boy-oh-boy is it a handy editing tool to have around!

Have you ever tried to add a column beneath a merged heading cell? If so, you're probably rolling your eyes in frustration just thinking about it! Well, why fuss and stress for something so small? Just draw that extra column!

Draw Table is a great way to split cells, too. Unlike the Table menu, Split Cells feature (which always splits cells equally), with Draw Table you can draw the split exactly where you want it to occur.

  1. Zoom as closely as you can to the area where you want to draw. (It might be necessary to zoom in order to draw as accurately as you need.)
  2. Click Draw Table on the Table menu, or, if the Tables and Borders toolbar is already open, click Draw Table Button image. This will attach the pencil tool to your mouse pointer.
  3. Drag the mouse pointer over the area where you want the new split to appear, just as if you were drawing a line with a pencil.

When you see a dotted line that extends the length of your desired split, release the mouse. That's all there is to it!

 Note    Draw Table will add a printable border, as well as splitting the desired cell(s). Delete the border, if it's unwanted, as you would any cell border. The split will remain intact.

Use Table Styles to save time

Just as all text uses paragraph styles whether or not you apply them (paragraphs use Normal style if no other style is applied), all tables use a table style whether or not you apply one.

All new tables you create have a single line grid of borders by default, because the Word default table style is Table Grid. If you prefer to start with a table that contains no borders, change your default table style to Table Normal. You can also modify existing table styles or create your own custom table style to set as the default.

 Tip   If you paste tables into Word from other applications or the Web, they might take on your default table style depending on how you paste them. Similarly, when you change a table's structure (i.e., add or remove rows or columns), the existing table style might be reapplied. If you get unwanted borders when executing any of these actions, just set Table Normal as your default table style for all documents.

 Note    Table styles were a new feature in Microsoft Word 2002.

You can access table styles through the Styles and Formatting task pane, but the fastest route is Table AutoFormat (Table menu). All table styles available to your active document are listed in the Table AutoFormat dialog box, along with access to modify or create new table styles exactly as you create or modify paragraph styles.

For more information, see the article "You've Got Style, Kid!" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) for help creating styles using paragraph styles as the example. Or, for help understanding the basics of how all Word styles work, check out the article Understanding paragraph, character, list, and table styles.

To set a table style as the default for all documents, select any style listed in the Table AutoFormat dialog box (Table menu), and click Default. The Default Table Style dialog box will give you the option to set the style as a default for the active document or all documents based on the active template.

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.

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Applies to:
Word 2003