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!”

Excel Spreadsheet

You can actually create an Excel spreadsheet table in Word. This will act and function just like a regular Excel spreadsheet. So you can copy and paste existing spreadsheet values in, or make a new one with Excel formulas and functions.

Note, if you want to learn more about Excel formulas and functions, check out our How-to Geek School series on Excel Formulas and Functions!


Once you have inserted or filled in the spreadsheet with the values, it will appear similar to a table though it is technically known as a “workbook object.”


With your data inserted and table created, you can right-click on it and do some basic formatting like changing the borders and adjusting the shading, but it won’t be the same as formatting a traditional Word table.

Other Formatting Controls

On the right half of the Insert tab are some further formatting controls you should be aware of. Some of these may be of limited daily value to you, but we think it’s important to know about them in case you ever have need for them.



Hyperlinks, bookmarks, and cross-references are all classified as “Links” on the “Insert” toolbar.

Hyperlinks allow you to link pieces of text to locations on your computer, network, or the Internet. You can also select your text, right-click and choose “Hyperlink” from the context menu. In the “Insert Hyperlink” dialog, paste or type your address in the provided space.


It doesn’t have to be an Internet URL either, it can simply refer to a location on your computer or another location in your document. Mostly though, you will probably want to refer to an Internet location, such as the best place on earth to get your geek fix!

Header, Footer, and Page Number

Headers and footers are useful for repeating the same piece of information at the top and/or bottom of each page, such as if you want to have the title of your book at the top of each page, or similarly, page numbers.

When you click on either the header or the footer button, you can choose from an assorted of predefined styles.


When you choose a style, the header or footer will open and the Ribbon will change to present you with special formatting options.


So you can type in your header or footer, and then decide where you want to position it, whether it’s the same across each page, and so on.

In the same vein, when you add page numbers, you can place it anywhere within a header or footer, picking from a pre-defined list of numbering styles.


If you want to “Format Page Numbers,” you’ll be presented with dialog box, which will allow you to change the number format, add chapter numbers, and dictate from where it starts.


Overall, the header and footer controls are quite easy to grasp and master. So, if you have an instructor who’s a bit old-fashioned and demands you include them in your paper, or you want the title of your book, or your name on every page, or simple page numbers – you should have no problem adding and manipulating them.


We’re not going to spend a great deal of time explaining the “Equation” functions in Word 2013. We’re guessing the vast majority of people using Word, will never have occasion to insert an equation into their documents.

That said, let’s explain the function exists in the first place. In Word, you can write a simple like “A=πr2” because you can insert the symbol for pi and then use superscript font to show radius squared.

However, if you want to write out anything more complicated than that, you’ll need to insert it using the “Equation” function. You can either select a pre-built equation from the dropdown list:


Alternatively, you can build your own by simply placing the cursor at your desired insertion point and clicking the “Equation” button, which will place something akin to an equation text box into your document.


Note, the Ribbon immediately changes when you insert an equation to the “Equation Tools,” which offers a wide array of math symbols and operators, so you don’t have to try to figure out how to do it on your own.


So, if you’re a bit of a math geek or you’re taking a class and need to write a paper on a mathematical theory, you can present it ϥώwith all the necessary equations to show your work.


Symbols are characters that aren’t immediately found on your everyday, run-of-the-mill keyboard. For things like the copyright symbol and British Pounds, you need to insert the symbol using the “Symbols” function on the “Insert” tab.

Most recent and commonly-used symbols are displayed first, such as for foreign currencies (€, ₤, ¥), the aforementioned copyright symbol (©), and others. To access symbols beyond what is immediately displayed, click “More Symbols” at the bottom of the menu.


For example, if you want to write “façade” and using the cedilla (ç), you’d pick it from the “Latin” subset. Similarly, something like café with its acute accent, can be added using the “Symbol” dialog box.


Note that you can also insert foreign letters using shortcut keys. You can see which shortcut key is used for each symbol at the bottom of the “Symbol” dialog box.


If you want to change the shortcut (keep in mind, other symbols or functions might be mapped to other shortcuts), you can click the “Shortcut Key” button and change it to something else.


Note, that in the above instance, you’re not going to type “CTRL + ‘ + , + E” rather it’s “CTRL + ‘ + E.” The comma is simply there to tell you must first hold down the “CTRL” button, then press the apostrophe and “e” to insert an “é” in your document. Similarly, hold down “CTRL” plus comma and “c” to insert a “ç” and so on.

Coming up Next…

And so ends Lesson 3. We hope you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two. Knowing how to lay out tables in Word will give you a great deal of control over how you present data. Rather than simply having information in sentences or making lists, you can arrange it in neat rows and tables complete with customized colors and borders. The only limit is your creativity!

Moreover, if you’re going for a more published look and feel to your document, adding headers, footer, and page numbers is a great skill to have. Meanwhile, placing links in your documents will help readers navigate and read up on things you might otherwise have to explain with footnotes and such.

Tomorrow, in Lesson 4, we will dive into adding illustrations (such as pictures and shapes) to your documents, allowing you to create eye-popping layouts with tons of variety. You can even embed video for a true multimedia experience. We’ll end with how to add and use multiple languages, so you don’t want to miss out!

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.