If you’re not an Excel fan, but you need a few basic calculations, you can use Word. Its calculating feature is rudimentary and it certainly can’t replace Excel. On the other hand, this feature is helpful when your primary need is word processing and not number crunching.

The rules are simple:

  1. Enter the values you’ll be calculating into a table.
  2. If you’re calculating rows, add a new column to the right or left of the table and click Formula in the Data group (on the contextual Layout tab).
  3. If you’re calculating columns, add a new row to the bottom or top of the table and click Formula.

As you can see, calculating values in a Word table is straightforward and Word does most of the work for you. Let’s work through a quick example using the table shown below. Specifically, we’ll total commissions by salesperson and by specific vehicle types. To do so, we’ll add a calculating column to the right and a calculating row at the bottom.

First, let’s add the calculating column, as follows:

  1. Insert a new column to the right by clicking any cell in the right-most column and clicking Insert Right in the Rows & Columns group on the contextual Layout tab. In Word 2003, select Insert from the Table menu, and then select Columns To The Right.
  2. Select the second cell in the new column (not the header cell, the one at the end of the Smith row).
  3. Click Formula in the Data group. In Word 2003, choose Formula from the Table menu.
  4. Word anticipates your needs and supplies the appropriate formula for you – add everything to the left of this cell. If Word doesn’t supply the formula for you, enter =SUM(LEFT)
  5. From the Format dropdown, choose the currency format, $#,##0.00;($#,##0.00).
  6. Click OK. You might have to resize the column to accommodate the new content.
  7. Repeat the process for each row, but be careful. Once you add the first formula, Word will detect values above the current cell and default to ABOVE instead of LEFT, in the formula. You’ll need to change =SUM(ABOVE) to =SUM(LEFT).

Adding totals to each column is just as easy:

  1. Add a new row to the bottom of the table.
  2. Click in the third cell – the Car, New column.
  3. Click Formula in the Data group.
  4. You won’t have to change the formula, because Word will detect the values above and default accordingly.
  5. Set the format.
  6. Click OK.
  7. Repeat the process for each column.

Word calculations don’t update automatically. To update a calculating cell, select it and press [F9]. You can select the entire table and press [F9] to update all of the calculations in the table. Similarly, you can select a row, a column, or a block of rows and columns.

Avoid merging and splitting cells in a calculating table. Doing so can have unexpected results that are difficult to troubleshoot.