Pro tip: Use Word Building Blocks to standardize your tables

If Word's generic formats for tables aren't adequate, you might spend a lot of time reformatting. Fortunately, there's an easier way. Learn how to save your custom tables as Building Blocks.

Building blocks

Word's default table formats might be adequate for most of your documents. When they're not, you probably spend a lot of time reformatting every table you insert. If that's you, you're working harder than necessary. Instead of reformatting every new table, start with a customized Building Block table that has all or most of the formatting you need from the get-go! Even if you have to tweak it a bit -- a few quick changes is easier than starting from scratch every time.

You can work with any table, or you can download the demonstration .docx or .doc file. Building Blocks aren't supported by Word 2003, but you can save a table as AutoText to achieve the same results.

About Building Blocks

Before we create a custom Building Block for standardizing your table formats, let's take a peek at the Building Block feature. If you're familiar with AutoText, you can use Building Blocks. The two features are similar in purpose. Word 2007 combines AutoText and Building Blocks in Quick Parts, which is more than text. Using Building Blocks, you can quickly customize common documents.

You might be surprised at what Word considers a Building Block -- headers, footers, watermarks, equations, page numbers, and text boxes are all Building Blocks now. Figure A shows just one of Word's Building Block galleries. Click the Insert tab and then click Cover Page in the Pages group. That's a gallery of built-in Building Blocks. At this point, you would select one of the cover page options, fill in the placeholders, and continue on with your work -- saving you a significant amount of time. For the most part, if an option displays a gallery of options, you're looking at built-in Building Blocks. In a nutshell, these built-in Building Blocks are predesigned components you insert into a document.

Figure A

Figure A

Cover pages are actually built-in Building Blocks.

Built-in Building Blocks will save you time, but you can also create your own. For instance, if you generate lots of contracts, you know that a several components appear in every contract and that others appear in some. By saving those components as Building Blocks, you can quickly assemble a contract by inserting individual Building Blocks in the order they're needed for each contract.

Adding a Building Block table

Now that you know a bit about the feature, let's use it to create a table template -- one that contains the formats you use in all or most of your tables. That way, when you're ready to add a table to a document, you can insert the Building Block table. Doing so will give you a great head start, because you can bypass all (or most) of the formatting.

First, you'll need a table that contains your custom formatting. Figure B shows a simple customized table. The table contains four rows and four columns. The header row has a background color, and I've applied bold and center formats to the header cells. You won't see those at work until you insert a table and add header text.

Figure B

Figure B

Create a simple table with a few custom formats.

Now, you're ready to create a Building Block from the customized table, as follows:

  1. Select the table. To do so, click the table handle in the top left corner.
  2. Press [Alt]+[F3] to display the Create New Building Block dialog. Or, click Quick Parts in the Text group (on the Insert tab), and choose Save Select To Quick Part Gallery. This option is available only when you've selected text or an object. If you're using Word 2003, you'll be working with the AutoText feature, not a Building Block -- but the process is essentially the same.
  3. Use a descriptive name so it's easy to remember later. Use the shortest name you can think of that fully describes your table. You'll see why in a minute.
  4. For this example, the name is the only setting you need to change. You could add a category named Table, but for our purposes, that isn't necessary. After adding a name, click OK (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C

Add a descriptive name and click OK.

You're done. Wasn't that easy? Your Building Block table can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. Now, you can insert your Building Block (customized) table anywhere in your document by recalling its name. Here's how:

  1. Position the cursor where you want to insert the table and enter the table by name. Don't press Enter or add a space. Leave the cursor at the end of the name (Figure D). This is why you want a descriptive but short name -- something that's easy to remember .
    Figure D
    Figure D
  2. Press [F3] and Word will insert your customized Building Block table.

As you can see in Figure E, the header cells contain text, which I added so you can see that the bold and center formats are truly in place. All I did was start typing.

Figure E

Figure E

Insert your Building Block table.

There's another way to insert the table: Click the Insert tab and then choose the table from the Quick Parts drop-down gallery shown in Figure F. If it isn't visible, click Building Blocks Organizer to view a complete list of built-in and custom Building Blocks.

Figure F

Figure F

Use the gallery.

Easy table

The Building Block table comes with a set number of columns and rows, which you can adjust when you create the table. Use the number that requires the least amount of adjustment when you insert the table.

Using this technique is like changing Word's default table formatting, but it's even better. You can create as many Building Block tables as you need. You're not limited to one set of defaults. I've kept the example simple on purpose, but don't let that fool you. This feature can handle some complex formatting requirements... and don't stop with tables. Anytime you repeat efforts with the same element -- whether it's text, formatting, or objects -- consider creating a custom Building Block.

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Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.


 Thank you again for this productivity tip, Susan.

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