How to Format Your Tables in Microsoft Word

Your Word Tables can look better if you know how to properly format them.

You probably already know how to create tables in Microsoft Word. But formatting them is another matter. Formatting a table not only gives it the right look but can also make it easier to use. Maybe you’ve struggled with table formatting in the past, or perhaps you’d just like to learn all the different ways you can format a table. Your options abound in Word. You can create a table with a certain layout. You can apply border styles either to the whole table or to individual rows or columns. And you can give your table a snazzy new look by selecting an entire table style. Let’s go over the process for formatting tables in Microsoft Word.

As always, I’m using Word 2016 through my Office 365 subscription. But the process for formatting tables is similar across the past few versions of Word. Let’s start by launching Word with a blank new document. Click on the Insert ribbon and then click on the Table button. Word offers three ways to create a table. You can insert a table by moving your mouse cursor over a specific number of rows and columns in the field of squares. You can click on the Insert Table command and then enter the number of rows and columns you want. Or you can click on the Draw Table command and then draw your table with the right number of rows and columns. We’ll go with the first option to insert a table by hovering over a certain number of rows and columns and create a table with five rows and five columns.

After you’ve inserted your table, Word displays the Design ribbon where you can format your table. But we’ll add text to the cells first. We’re going to create a table showing certain recurring expenses. We’ll use the first row as a header row, meaning it will contain the header information for each column. Type the following five items, one in each cell of the header row: Groceries, Gas, Cell Phone, Utility, Internet. Then type dollar amounts in the other cells. Save the file.

The first thing we’ll do is autofit the cells so they’re only as wide as the content inside. You can do this a few ways. Double-click on one of the borders between two columns to autosize the column to the left. Select the table (to select the table, click on the table move handle in the upper left corner above the table) and then double-click one of the borders to resize all the cells in the table. Or right-click on the table move handle, move your mouse to the AutoFit command in the menu, and then click on the command to AutoFit to Contents. Let’s try the third option.

The width of each row shrinks to fit to the longest piece of content in any of its cells. Next, we want to play around with the borders of the table. Select the table by clicking the move handle. Click on the Border Styles button on the Design ribbon and choose a border style that you like. Click on the dropdown arrow for Line Style and choose a style for the border lines. Then click on the dropdown arrow for Line Weight and choose a line width. Click on the Borders button and move your mouse cursor to each border type to see how your table looks. You can choose top border, bottom border, all borders, outside borders, inside borders, and more. Let’s choose All Borders.

Okay, so the borders are the same across the entire table. Hmm, instead maybe you want the borders to be different throughout the table. Let’s create a different border for the outside of the table. Select the table. Click on the Border Styles button to choose a style. Click on the dropdown arrow for Line Style and choose a style for the border. Then click on the dropdown arrow for Line Weight and choose a line width. Click on the Borders button and select the option for Outside Borders.

Your outside borders adopt the new style while the inside borders stay the same. Now maybe you want to change borders just for the header row but not the top border, just the bottom and inside borders. To get that precise, you can paint the actual border you want. Again, click on the Border Styles button, the Line Style drowdown arrow, and then the Line Weight arrow to choose those attributes. No need to select the table ahead of time. Click on the Border Painter button on the Design ribbon. Your mouse cursor turns into paintbrush. Now just hold down your mouse button and drag over the borders that you want to take on the style you chose. We’ll paint the bottom border of the header row as well as that row’s inside borders.

When you’re done, click on the Border Painter button to turn off the paintbrush. Next, let’s apply a little shading to the table. Select the table and then click on the Shading button. Hover your mouse over the different colors in the palette. You can also click on the entry for More Colors to opt for a custom color. Click on the color you want to apply. The entire table takes on that shading. Next, maybe you want to apply shading but just to a specific row or column. Let’s take the header row. To select just the header row, move your mouse to the left of that row until the cursor turns into an arrow. Then click your mouse button to select that row. Now click on the Shading button again and hover over a specific color. Only your header row takes on that color. Click on the color to apply it.

Okay, you’ve gone through these steps to format your table a certain way. Maybe you like the formatting; maybe you don’t. One way to change all the formatting in one fell swoop is through a table style. The first thing you want to do at the Design toolbar is turn off the checkmark for First Column. You would leave that item turned on only if your first column is a header column, meaning it defines the other columns. The table we created doesn’t have a header column, so you should turn off the entry for First Column. Now hover over the different styles in the Table Style section on the Design ribbon. Click on the down arrow to see more styles and then the arrow with the horizontal line to see all the styles in one shot. Click on a style you like to apply it to your table.

From border styles to line styles to shading to table styles, Word offers a few ways to format your table. And you can always change the formatting as your table evolves so it looks just right.

Whitney, Lance. “How to Format Your Tables in Microsoft Word” Windows Secrets, Office January 30, 2018

Posted in: Tech Tips for Business Owners

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