Tricks for typing in Microsoft Word tables

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q. I've taken on a new project that requires me to type text and data into tables in Word, but I'm struggling. Are there any special tricks for typing data into Word tables?

A. Text does behave somewhat differently when typed into tables, and Word provides some additional tools specifically designed for typing in tables. Presented below is a summary of some of the more useful Word Table Tools:

1. Line breaks: Pressing Shift+Enter within a cell will force a line break (pressing the Enter key alone inserts a paragraph break).

2. Indenting: Pressing Ctrl+Tab within a cell will indent your text (pressing the Tab key alone advances the cursor to the next cell rather than indenting).

3. Selecting a cell: Triple-clicking a cell from the end of the cell's content selects all text and objects in that cell. Alternatively, you can also select a cell's contents by positioning your mouse pointer in the cell's lower-left corner until the pointer changes to a northeast pointing arrow, and then click to select. You can also select multiple cells by clicking in a single cell and dragging your cursor across the range of cells you want to select.

4. Selecting a row or column: Clicking the mouse pointer in the left margin next to a row selects that entire row. Further, you can select multiple rows by holding down the mouse button as you slide the pointer upward or downward to include additional rows in your selection. Similarly, you can select a column by positioning the cursor just above the column until the cursor changes to a downward pointing arrow, and then click to select that column, or click, hold, and drag the cursor to select multiple columns.

5. Merge cells: You can create complex table arrangements by merging cells together as follows. Select and right-click the cells you want to merge and then select Merge Cells from the pop-up menu.

6. Diagonal cells: To create the appearance of diagonal cells in a Word table, select a table or cell to display the Table Tools menu, and then from the Layout tab select Draw Table, which will change your cursor to the shape of a pencil. Next, use this pencil to draw a diagonal line from the corner of a cell to the opposing corner to create the diagonal cells. Next, enter two lines of text into the cell, separated with a paragraph break (by pressing the Enter key), and then left and right justify each line to produce the diagonal cell appearance, as pictured below.

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7. Cell margins: To control cell margins, select a cell (or cells), right-click that selection and from the pop-up menu, select Table ­Properties, Cell, Options, uncheck the box labeled Same as the whole table, and then adjust the cell margins using the Left and Right boxes pointed out by the red arrow shown below.

8. Auto-fit table text: Checking the Fit text box pointed out by the blue arrow below will force your text to be evenly justified and kerned (spaced) so the cell text you enter adjusts automatically to fit on one row. This can be especially helpful when labeling numerous columns.

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9.
Pasting text into cells: In some cases, it may be easier to write your text outside a table and then select, copy, and paste that text into your table. For example, you may find it less complicated to create a numbered outline outside a table and then copy, cut, and paste that outline into a cell in that table.

10. Pasting Excel cells into Word tables: When dealing with numbers or formulas, it may sometimes be easier to create those data in Excel and then copy and paste them into a Word table.

11. Converting text and tables: Word offers tools for both converting text to a table and for converting tables to text. To convert text to a table, select the text, and from the Insert tab select Table, Convert Text to Table, indicate the number of columns and rows you want, and then click OK. To convert a table to text, select the table and from the Table Tools menu select Layout, Convert to Text.

12. Controlling table size: You can adjust the size of a table by hovering your cursor over the right-most edge of your table until the cursor changes to a double-line cursor, and then clicking and dragging the right-most column size wider or narrower. Next, you can adjust all columns to identical sizes by selecting and right-clicking those you want to adjust, and selecting the Distribute Columns Evenly option. 

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