Tables and Other Formatting Controls

Word Formatting 3

In this lesson, we’re going to delve into tables, which are a huge part of laying out well formatted documents. After we discuss tables, we’ll cover some other controls that will help round out your formatting prowess, including adding links, using symbols, creating math equations, and quite a bit more!

By now, you should be very well acquainted with getting your documents up to a level where you can adjust the tabbing and indenting, paragraph alignments, line spacing, and create quick, customized lists. If you need a refresher of what we’ve covered so far, you should check out Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 so you can bring yourself up to speed.


One of the most common formatting elements you will use in Microsoft Word are tables, so much so that it’s probably a surprise we aren’t covering them until now!

Tables are a tried-and-true method of presenting data in rows and columns. They are very simple to insert and manipulate in Word. When you click on the “Tables” button on the “Insert” tab, you’re given several options.


Here you see a grid that allows you to quickly spec out a table but you can also insert, draw, or pick from some predefined “Quick Tables”.


The fast way is to simply trace out the table you want using the provided grid. In the screenshot, you see we trace out a 6 x 5 table, which is previewed in the document.


With your table now placed into your document, you can set out about formatting it, which we’ll cover shortly.

Insert Table

Secondly, you can “Insert Table,” which means you just input the number of columns and rows and how you want the column to “AutoFit.” If you choose fixed column width, you can select “auto” or you can assign a size. Alternatively, you can AutoFit columns to fit the contents, or you can have the content AutoFit to the window.


Finally, if you intend to reproduce the table or you use that size frequently, you can have the “Insert Table” dialog remember those dimensions for new tables.

Draw Table

When you draw a table, the cursor is changed to a pencil and you can “draw” out the column and rows. In this way you can size the table to your liking.


Once you draw your first cell, you can then draw further cells, and create the table that is more based on how you want it to look than necessarily what it requires.

Convert Text to Table

Let’s imagine you have a bunch of text and numbers, and you realize that it would be easier to read if it were in neat columns and rows. Not to fear, text to table will allow you to quickly and easily convert all that data into a table that you can then format to your heart’s content.

So how does this work? Simply, when you want to convert a section of your document to a table, you select the section using your mouse pointer and then select “Convert Text to Table.” The resulting dialog box allows you to choose how many columns you want.


The number of rows will be automatically determined by line breaks, so for example, if you have a block of text divided with flour line breaks, your table will have four rows.

Columns are determined by commas, tabs, paragraph breaks, or another symbol you can manually assign.

Quick Tables

Quick tables are fairly easy to reason out. Let’s say you want to insert a quick calendar, matrix, or a tabular list. You can also create your own table and save it to the list for later, quick use. Simply select the table you want to save, and select “Save Selection to Quick Tables Gallery.”


There’s not a whole lot to master here. Keep in mind, when you insert a quick table, you can then edit and format as you would any table that you created from scratch. And, on that note, let’s actually dive into all that formatting information we’ve been alluding to throughout this lesson.

Formatting Tables

On the Ribbon, the “Table Tools” tabs are contextual tabs that appears whenever you create or click on a table. The functions found here give you an easier visual way of quickly manipulating tables where you might otherwise use right-click options.


The “Table Tools” are divided into two tabs. “Layout” (pictured above), which lets you add and remove columns, adjust height and width, and text alignment. Many of these controls can be accessed directly from the right-click context menu, but it’s nice to have all your options arrayed before you.


Note though, the context menu you get, will depend on where you click. If you click on the little table control in the upper-left corner:


You get a larger variety of tools at your disposal. Note also, you can delete a table easily this way:


Back to the Ribbon, on the far right side of the “Layout” tab, you’ll find some handy controls for controlling your “Alignment” and “Data.”


So, for example, if you want your headers to be perfectly centered within their cells, while having your data cells left-justified, you’d simply select the cells to affected and click the alignment you desire.

You can also “Sort” cell data, insert formulas, convert your table to plain text, and repeat header rows. The last option is useful if you have a table that spans multiple pages, you can designate “header rows,” which will persist as you scroll through the table. This is useful for keep track of what column is what in long tables.

The “Design” tab by contrast is all about how your table(s) appear.


Note when you click on the scrollbar in “Table Styles” a larger menu appears granting you greater built-in options.


At the bottom of this menu, you can modify your table’s style if the current selection of tables doesn’t suit you. When you make changes, they will be previewed so you can see them before you commit.


While formatting or modifying a table, if the built-in selections aren’t close to what you want, you may just want to start from scratch. In this case, you can you the “New Style” dialog, which will be allow you to build a new table style based on current table styles.

There’s little difference to this dialog and the modify dialog except that modifying is based off an existing table design.


In the end, formatting your tables is going to come down to what kind of data you’re presenting and personal preference. We suggest that if you want to fully master tables, you create a blank document and mess around to your heart’s content. We are certain you’ll be creating and formatting eye-catching data-sets in less than it takes to say “columns and rows!”

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and dyed-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.