How do I... Create and format tables in Word 2003?

Take advantage of the table features of Microsoft Word to create more compelling documents.

This article was originally published on January 1, 2006.

If you're a regular reader on TechRepublic, you may have seen my series covering various features in Microsoft Excel. While I am finished with that particular series (unless you send ideas for things you'd like to see, of course!), I will be tying this new series—all about Word—in with Excel fairly tightly.

That said, I won't be doing much integrating with Excel in this particular article, which focuses on tables in Microsoft Word.

Word tables have long been a way that people create spreadsheet-like items in Word documents. Word tables are also often used to improve the layout of a page in Word. Regardless of how you plan to use tables, this article (and my next two articles) will go over everything you need to know to make the best use of this popular Word feature.

A little about this series

I mentioned above that tables are useful for a number of purposes. To that end, I will focus on two common uses of tables after providing an introduction:

  • How tables work
  • Using tables as mini-spreadsheets
  • Using tables to create professional-looking forms

A lot about tables

The tables feature is so useful and popular in Word that Microsoft has devoted an entire menu (Figure A) to this feature.

Figure A

The Word Table menu

Over the course of this three-article series, we'll cover every option on this menu.

First, what are tables? When you look at it, a Word table looks a little like an Excel spreadsheet (Figure B), because it's made up of rows and columns. Unlike Excel, however, Word tables don't have letter and number designations for each column and row. Why? A table is much simpler and much smaller than a typical Excel spreadsheet, so it just doesn't need those kinds of headings. It's easy to say "the third block from the left two rows down" when you only have a few rows and columns to deal with.

Figure B

A Word table bears some resemblance to an Excel spreadsheet.

Into this grid, you can put anything you like: text, numbers, pictures — whatever goes into Word will go into a table, too.

Creating a table

Word gives you a couple of ways to create a table. First, on the Standard toolbar, you can click the Insert Table button (Figure C) to tell Word that you want to place a new table at the current location in your document.

Figure C

The Insert Table button on the standard toolbar gives you a quick way to add a table.

When you use the Insert Table button, you get a miniature grid. Using this grid, you tell Word how large you would like your table. In Figure C, a table that is three columns wide and two rows deep would be created. If you make a mistake with the number of rows and columns, don't worry too much about it. You can always change it later.

You can also add a table using a regular dialog box(Figure D) by going to Table | Insert | Table.

Figure D

The dialog box method gives you a few extra options. We'll look at some of these later.

In Figure D, notice that the dialog box tells you exactly how many rows and columns will be created for your new table — in this case, five columns and two rows. If you go this route, again, don't worry if you make a mistake.

There is a third way that you can create a table in Word as well: Draw it. Using the draw method, you can create a table that isn't just made up of a bunch of identical rectangular boxes. You can create blocks that are the right size for what you're trying to accomplish. If you're create a form, for example, and you want to have a comment block, you probably want to provide the person filling out the form with a little more space to write.

For example, rather than the usual row and column format, you could create a table that looks something like the one shown in Figure E.

Figure E

This is not your typical rows and columns table

To use the drawing method, you need to enable the Tables And Borders toolbar by going to View | Toolbars | Tables and Borders.

Figure F

The Tables And Borders toolbar contains a number of table drawing features.

To draw borders that form your table, click the Draw Table button in the upper-left corner of the Tables And Borders toolbar. Now, hold down the left mouse button while you draw boxes on the screen. If you use this on an existing table, you can break up the table cells into smaller chunks. If you make a mistake, don't worry. Just click the Eraser button to the immediate right of the Draw Table button.

With this method, you can change the style, thickness, and color of your table borders, too. The three options to the right of the Eraser handle these functions. Click the down arrows next to any of these options to see your selections.

Navigating your table

Once you create your table, you'll need to be able to move around it to get your work done. You can move around the table using your mouse and clicking where you want to go or you can use the arrow keys on the keyboard. Or, if you want to jump from cell to cell, left to right, you can press the Tab key on the keyboard. When you use the Tab key and you get to the end of a row and press the key again, Word brings you back to the first column, but in the next row down. If you're in the bottom row, Word creates a new row for you.

Adding and deleting rows and columns

It's easy to add rows to the end of your table, but what if you need to sneak something in between two rows you already have, or you need to add a column? What about deleting a row or column? No problem.

To add a row to your table, move your cursor to either the row above or the row below the location you want a new row and go to Table | Insert | Rows Above or Table | Insert | Rows Below. You can add multiple rows by first selecting the number of rows you want to add. For example, if you want to add two rows above a specific row in your table, select the two rows immediately below where you want to add the new rows and select Table | Insert | Rows Above.

Adding columns works the same way, except that you choose Table | Insert | Columns To The Left or Table | Insert | Columns To The Right.

Deleting rows and columns is just as easy. Simply select the rows or columns you want to delete and choose Table | Delete | Rows or Table | Delete | Columns. When you delete a row or column, be careful. If you have data in your deletion selection, it, too, will be deleted. Word gives you no warning. If you delete the wrong row or column, you can always undo your action, though.

Shortcuts for adding and deleting rows and columns

Word provides you with a shortcut for adding and deleting rows and columns. Rather than use the Table menu, you can just click the right mouse button.

For example, suppose you want to insert a row into your table. Select the row immediately below the point at which you want to add the row. Next, click the right mouse button and choose Insert Rows from the resulting shortcut menu. This method can be a little tricky since you have to make sure that your cursor is positioned exactly right or you won't be able to select a row.

Normally, when you see your cursor on the screen, it points up and left. In this case, to select a row in your table, slide your cursor slightly to the left of the left-most column in your table. When you cursor changes to an arrow pointing to the upper-right (Figure G), you've got it. You can then left-click the mouse to select that row. Then, right-click the mouse to bring up the shortcut menu that houses the Insert Rows function.

Similarly, you can delete a row by selecting the row you want to delete, right-clicking it, and selecting Delete Rows from the shortcut menu.

Figure G

Note the direction of the pointer in this picture.

As for columns, it's a similar concept. To add or delete a column, move your cursor just slightly above the top row of your table (Figure H). Once the cursor changes to a small down arrow, you're golden; left-click the mouse to select the column, then right-click and choose either Insert Columns or Delete Columns.

Figure H

The down arrow means that Word is ready to select columns.

Formatting your table

Just like everything else in Word, your table can be formatted with different fonts, colors, line styles, and more. And even after your table is initially created, you can add and remove borders to create a custom table like the one you saw in Figure E.

For this section, we'll focus on the Tables And Borders toolbar; to enable this toolbar, go to View | Toolbars | Tables And Borders. I'll go over the common formatting functions using this toolbar.

Changing the line weight, color, and style

Most tables have some kind of grid. But in Word, you can keep the table and remove the grid, change the grid line style to some other type, and change the color of the lines altogether.

On the toolbar (Figure I), the four options to the right of the Eraser button handle the line styles in your table.

Figure I

The highlighted buttons control both the interior and exterior borders on your table.

In order, these four buttons control the line style, line weight/thickness, color, and borders. To make a change to borders, change these options using the down arrow next to each selection. For example, if you click the down arrow next to the Borders button, you get options shown in Figure J.

Figure J

After you decide on a line style, weight, and color, you can choose which borders you want to apply the new style to.

Figure K below shows you an example of what different borders might look like in your table.

Figure K

Change your line style, weight, and color to match your needs.

Changing the alignment in each cell

You can also change the position of the text in each individual cell in your table. In some cells, you might want the text centered both horizontally and vertically, while in another cell, you might want the text aligned at the bottom-right corner. This is where the cell alignment options come in (Figure L).

Figure L

The alignment options let you position text in your cell anywhere you like.

Using this drop-down list, you can quickly change the position of text in your table. Take a look at Figure M to see an example of what you can do. Figure M shows you all of the available alignment options.

Figure M

This shows you each alignment option in action... along with a couple of unique border styles.

Distribute rows and columns

Are you a neat freak? Or do you just want to make sure that your table looks professional? One way you can do that is to make sure your rows and columns are sized appropriately. For example, if you're showing monthly budget information, your column widths for each month should look the same rather than being all different sizes. Take a look at Figure N to see what I mean.

Figure N

Note the difference: The top table looks a lot neater than the table below, which looks thrown together.

It's actually easy to make your table look neat: Use the Distribute Rows Evenly and Distribute Columns Evenly buttons on the toolbar (Figure O).

Figure O

These buttons make it easy for you to make your rows and columns equal in width.

Let's suppose you want to make your month columns equal in width. Select the columns with month headings and then click the Distribute Columns Evenly button (the second button). You can do the same thing for the rows using the Distribute Rows Evenly button.

You can also manually change the width of a column or the height of a row (Figure P). When you're in your table, take a look at both your horizontal and your vertical ruler bars. Each one is broken up with a control that just happens to be at the break point for each row and column.

Figure P

The width and height controls provide you with a place to change how tall your rows are and how wide your columns appear.

When you move your mouse over one of these controls, it changes into a line with two arrows signifying that if you click and drag the control, you can change the width of a column or height of a row.


One of Word's most useful table formatting features is AutoFormat, which lets you quickly apply a completely new look and feel to your table with just a couple of clicks. We'll use AutoFormat on the mini-budget table you saw earlier.

To get to AutoFormat, either click the AutoFormat button on the Tables And Borders toolbar or choose Table | Table AutoFormat. Either way, you'll see the window shown in Figure Q.

Figure Q

The AutoFormat window provides you with dozens of preconfigured options from which to choose.

From this window, you can peruse the multitude of styles provided by Word, make a modification to one of the templates, or even create your own style. The AutoFormat option allows you to specify which areas you will apply to your table. For example, if you don't have a header row on your table, you might now want to have the special boldfaced heading text, so you can deselect the Heading Rows option. Figure R shows you the results of using AutoFormat on the mini-budget table. Note that every other line is shaded in this example. Doing that manually on a large table could take quite some time.

Figure R

AutoFormat applied a number of different styles to this table very quickly.

Formatting options

Creating, customizing, and formatting tables in Word is largely a function of the specialized Tables And Borders toolbar. With Word, you can create tables of practically any size and shape.

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