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Easy parallel columns in Word

Newspaper columns are easy to create in Word, but parallel columns can be troublesome. The solution? Use Word tables to create your parallel columns.

Columns are easy to create in Word -- usually. Newspaper columns flow from top to bottom and then snake around to the top and down to the bottom again. In Word, you just click a button and like magic, you have newspaper columns. On the other hand, parallel columns are a bit more troublesome. These columns are read left to right. You can use tabs, but the guesswork makes these columns awkward to work with. Moving or deleting a column is difficult at best. Displaying the tab characters make the chore easier, but you still have to delete or move items one by one.

Tina Norris Fields, a Michigan colleague, recently shared an easy way to create parallel columns: Use a table and then inhibit the borders. Now, that's magic!

Use any method you like to create the table. I usually enter the first few rows and then let Word create the table based on the existing items. If you know the dimensions, you can create the table first and then enter data. It doesn't really matter. Use the AutoFit format and let Word adjust the table as you enter the columnar data.

When you're done, turn off the table's borders as follows:

  1. Select the entire table by clicking anywhere inside it. Then, choose Select from the Table menu and choose Table. Or click the double-arrow icon in both Word 2003 and Word 2007.
  2. With the table selected, choose Borders And Shading from the Format menu and click the Borders tab. (In Word 2007, choose Borders And Shading from the Borders And Shading drop-down list in the Paragraph group on the Home tab. This list is also available in the Table Styles group on the Design tab.)
  3. Click the None option under Setting.

Word will gray out the borders on screen. However, Word won't print the borders, which you can easily confirm by viewing the document in Print Preview.

Using the table structure allows you to easily move or even delete parallel columns.

About

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.

31 comments
DAS01
DAS01

Very late response, only because i was searching for how to set up parallel columns in Word. As one or two people said, it is a feature of WordPerfect. Yet another example of the inferiority of Word. Doing it with tables is just a necessary workaround.

SoGifted
SoGifted

while columns are indeed a pesky feature. this article is a good reminder how to overcome a bad Word design and keep going. Indeed, unlike columns, tables are easily turned on and off, and can even be converted back to text. so, use it often and without fear!

igourdine
igourdine

Thank you, I am a part-time PC Help Desk Support Analyst/Tech, I have always spent time using the alternate methods. This saves time, I will try it With Office 2007 Quick parts. This is a priceless gem. Thanks Ctec2001@aol.com

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Put the instruction in the left column and the expected indications or results in the right. For example: Edited because the forum wouldn't let me post with anything other than "." as title or body.

Avner_Uzan
Avner_Uzan

It would be really nice to get a screenshot or picture of sorts on some of these tips because no matter how I read the description sideways, top to bottom or backwards, the mind-imageture eludes me... Hello moderator are you out there???

rjwiderman
rjwiderman

Use this macro for "1 click speed" modify line one in the code for the number of rows that you normally need NumRows:=## and NumColumns:= ## Add the macro to your toolbar and enjoy Need MACRO HELP? See the bottom of this post '~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Sub insertTbl44rowsNoborder() ' ' Inserts a Table with 2 columns, 44 Rows (whole page), no borders ' Macro recorded 9/10/2008 by Ron Widerman ' ActiveDocument.Tables.Add Range:=Selection.Range, NumRows:=44, NumColumns:= _ 2, DefaultTableBehavior:=wdWord9TableBehavior, AutoFitBehavior:= _ wdAutoFitFixed With Selection.Tables(1) If .Style "Table Grid" Then .Style = "Table Grid" End If .ApplyStyleHeadingRows = True .ApplyStyleLastRow = True .ApplyStyleFirstColumn = True .ApplyStyleLastColumn = True .Borders(wdBorderLeft).LineStyle = wdLineStyleNone .Borders(wdBorderRight).LineStyle = wdLineStyleNone .Borders(wdBorderTop).LineStyle = wdLineStyleNone .Borders(wdBorderBottom).LineStyle = wdLineStyleNone .Borders(wdBorderHorizontal).LineStyle = wdLineStyleNone .Borders(wdBorderVertical).LineStyle = wdLineStyleNone .Borders(wdBorderDiagonalDown).LineStyle = wdLineStyleNone .Borders(wdBorderDiagonalUp).LineStyle = wdLineStyleNone .Borders.Shadow = False End With ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ MACRO HELP..... If you've never assigned a Macro to a button see instructions here: http://word.mvps.org/faqs/customization/AsgnCmdOrMacroToToolbar.htm

MidwestITLady
MidwestITLady

As a long time Word user, I've been using tables in Word for things like this for years. Tables are great...they can really help better organize information in a variety of ways. If anyone has not tried this yet, I would highly recommend.

Joy Phillip
Joy Phillip

Obviously I"m not getting the "visual" of what you mean. I work with Newspaper columns a lot, I work with tables a lot. The way you have described this, it's apparently a table and nothing more. So a screen cap would be really helpful.

Mr Bones
Mr Bones

Why select none for the border and grey them out? Select white and they don't show on screen or in print!

fahdim
fahdim

Oh is that so techy to be here? I don't think its a big deal to figure that out!

Tink!
Tink!

Ever since I re-entered the workforce and re-learned Word, I've been using tables for alot of documents that need formatting in parallel, columnar, or tabular designs. Word tables are nice because you can select a single cell, and resize just that cell. This allows you to create any number of format arrangements. Very useful when creating blank forms to be filled out later. You simply use a blank cell as the space to fill-in, and use the bottom border to create the line. Using tables keeps all the lines lined up together. Whereas using tabs, underscores and underlines with spaces creates lines that are not exact and will move with typing. Tink :)

ssharkins
ssharkins

Priceless gem, huh? I'll take mine in green or blue... :) Seriously -- since Word doesn't seem to offer a dedicated "parallel column" feature, similar to the one in WordPerfect, I am surprised that they don't document the use of tables in this way. Well, if they do, I've not seen it. I can see from the responses though, that the terminology doesn't help the discussion -- I guess I am showing my age by using the term "parallel column!" :)

trainerdave1
trainerdave1

. . . and I resorted to tables to generate training guides - and corresponding leaders' guides and teaching scripts. Tables let you keep things in the left column, e.g. "Say This," matching corresponding actions in the right column, headed "Do This." Hint- set up the table so the header rows repeat at the top of each page when printing.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I agree -- tables are one of Word's strongest features. I use them alot too.

PCF
PCF

I have used tables with no borders to organize text for a long time, but I don't get what is being described here as it is written. I tried following the directions to see if maybe you meant different sets of columns on same page, but I just got rows. Please include a screen capture; "newspaper columns are read top to bottom" I get, but "parallel columns are read left to right" does not help. Sorry, just also curious to see if this is something I can use.

TechinMN
TechinMN

Like a couple of the other posters (apparently), I'm wondering: why would anyone _want_ to use this columnar format? Is there an actual use for this that isn't better handled by standard/newspaper columns? Reading across a column break seems to be something that should be avoided rather than sought after. Not being troublesome--I'm honestly curious.

dhays
dhays

I agree, vertical "newspaper columns" are parallel as well. Be a little more descriptive, such as horizontal, or multiple columns. Tables work well for vetical columns, too. They are easier ot work with in my opinion than the columnar format in Word.

ssharkins
ssharkins

If you really don't want to see the borders while working, you could do that. It's a good idea, if that's what you need. Thanks for recommending it. On the other hand, if you edit the document and the borders can't be seen, it's easy to forget that you're actually working in a table and that might lead to confusion. It's really a matter of need -- to see borders on screen or not? It's a choice. Thanks for the suggestion.

helmma
helmma

The reason to select borders>none is that white borders show on non-white backgrounds. Just because you are using white paper when you design does not mean it will be that way when you print.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Tink -- that's an excellent recommendation. I use tables the same way.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I created a training script using parallel columns in WordPerfect, years ago -- worked great. You're right -- a Word table would work perfectly.

n4aof
n4aof

...when what you really wanted was a table and didn't know what to call one so you invented the silly term "Parallel Columns" which makes no sense at all anyway.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I can't imagine entering parallel columar data in newspaper columns -- I'm thinking of all those hard returns. How would Word know when one column stopped and the next started? As for the type of data you'd use in a parallel column -- quarterly sales, temperatures, scientific data -- I see this type of data all the time.

hduff
hduff

The term is a carry over from earlier versions of WordPerfect and Word (I think). I used this feature when I set up a personnel information report. I wanted the information to go across the page (row). Consider the following columnar information: Name Add Em Contact H Phone C Phone Name takes 1 line; address 2+; emergency contact 1-4+; Home and Cell phone 1 each; then 1 blank line (row) betwen each entry.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Sorry if my descriptions is lacking. The columnar terms, newpaper and parallel, are fairly universal, but you're right, I shouldn't assume anything. Newspaper columns are read top to bottom; parallel columns are read left to right.

peter.moss
peter.moss

I used this in WP and Word 2.0 for manuals etc. Plus I always use it in Headers and footers to separate stuff how I want it not how the tabs etc. try and force you to. That plus each cell can be Left/Right or centred, great for footers page Number etc. Plus a cell can contain a graphic like a company Logo! Just shows how little use people make of ALL Words features.

jmezell
jmezell

My wife has be do flyers all the time that look like this: Event: Some words on the right side that describe what the event is about Time: Place: The details of each item may reguire more then one line and doing it in an invisible table keeps the items on the left clean and the details on the right together. Jimmy qvlweb.blogspot.com

PCF
PCF

I can finally 'see' it. I knew it had to be simple, but none of the explanations put a picture in my mind. I hope your example helps others too. Could also use for an address book reading left to right like in a grid (or, e.g., like using alt+enter in excel to fill multiple lines per cell and filling cells across a row), etc. Thanks.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Technically, row is a table term and parallel columns aren't necessarily tables, although, you can certainly think of parallel columns as a table without the gridlines, if that helps. Parallel columns don't usually have both row and column headings like tables do. They are similar, and often, you could use either, but not always. Regretably, I can't think of any good examples off the top of my head. Perhaps someone else will think of one. WordPerfect has a neat parallel column feature -- well, it use to, I don't know if it still does or not. As you're typing, you can tab from column to column and it handles multi-line items, etc. Great feature.

kelly_keefe
kelly_keefe

Wouldn't that be called a ROW, then? I'm still confused?

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