Microsoft

The right way to control spacing in a Word table

To format a heading row properly and consistently, use table properties, not empty paragraphs.

Something I see too frequently is the misuse of hard returns (paragraph marks) in a table's heading row. In an effort to make the row larger, users add a row of blank space above and below, as shown below the text.

The extra returns can cause a lot of frustration down the road. If you delete or add to a header, you can end up with a mess and users might spend a lot of time trying to fix it. All you've really done is to add a bunch of unnecessary empty paragraphs, and that's never a good thing. A better solution is to control the spacing and alignment using table properties. First, to control the height of the header row, do the following:

  1. Select the header row.
  2. Right-click the selection and choose Table Properties from the resulting context menu.
  3. Click the Row tab.
  4. Check the Specify Height option (in the Size section) and enter the appropriate measurement, say .5.
  5. Next, click the Cell tab.
  6. In the Vertical alignment section, click Center.
  7. Click OK.

The resulting table is the same, visually, but without all the unnecessary paragraph marks! Now, you can modify, add, and even delete headings without messing up the format of the heading row. Table properties aren't just for header rows either--use table properties to control the spacing and alignment in all cells (rows and columns too!)

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.

7 comments
lyricmama
lyricmama

I have been big on all of these "rules" for years and yet I cannot find a way to add Paragraph Spacing WITHIN a cell the same way that I use within a paragraph outside of the table. As a workaround, I have done a Copy/Paste of my text from a blank document and pasted back in the cell. It's a pain, however and I am here to find tips on how to avoid this laborious step. I have yet to find it addressed. Whe I mouse over the "wall" and get the double-lines, I *still* have 6pt spacing before my paragraph that I want to shrink. Dragging the wall lines does absolutely nothing.

Also, I hear you as far as the "correct" way to space a header, but there ARE times I have to "tweak" the system and put in carriage returns of 2pt font JUST to get what I need for things to line up. I consider myself an expert use and have used Word for 16 years. I don't know everything, however and would love to hear a tip to get around this (very) aggravating spacing problem.

stapleb
stapleb

I'm with you Susan, specifically in relation to the frustration which will probably occur later when trying to edit/fix someone else's table. I know that so many of these types of problems happen because of a lack of understanding about how Word works. It is best to find a way to deal with formatting creatively and simply, and not leave problems for someone down the track.

dhays
dhays

Either way works for me. A mixture of each could be the answer. Paragraph spacing works if the row or cell is large enough to display everything. Back in Office 95 or so, one could set each cell individually, but since then it is extremely hard or impossible to do. It has to be uniform. They take away functionality in newer versions.

Answers
Answers

I always recommend paragraph spacing for tables as many people know about paragraph spacing so it is a quicker way to control table row spacing as well. I usually go for 2pt or 3pt before and after.

Shayla01
Shayla01

@lyricmama  @staplebThe easiest way it to highlight your cell and under the Home Tab in the Paragraph section you will see the line and paragraph spacing button. It looks like two blue arrows, one pointing up, one pointing down with four black lines beside it. Click that, then go to line spacing options. Set your Spacing Before & After to 0pt, your line spacing a single and check the box "Don't add space between paragraphs of the same style"

Hope that Helps :)

mwb78
mwb78

If you want to adjust cells individually, I think what you're looking for is cell properties. If you notice in Susan's example she was setting the margins for an entire row. Instead, choose the cell options. You'll need to drill down to the Options and deselect Same as the whole table. If you add larger margins than your row height or column width has room for, you'll have to adjust the size of your cell to accomodate that. Cell width can be defined in the Cell page of the Table Properties dialog box. It's also possible to do this with your mouse. For instance, to move the "wall" between adjacent cells in the same row, select those two cells then use the double-headed arrow to resize the cells. I've found variable row heights can be acheived by splitting cells then re-merging cells in a different configuration.