How to control a Word table's horizontal alignment

When inserting a table in a Word document, you can stick with the default alignment or change it in any number of ways.

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Image: iStock/Ridofranz

Inserting a table in Microsoft Word is a simple task, but the default won't always be exactly what you want. For instance, the default alignment is offset from the left margin. What if you want the table centered or even flush to the right margin? The good news is that realigning a table is easy. In this article, I'll show you several ways to align a table the way you want. 

I'm using Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but you can use earlier versions, and you can align tables in Word Online. You can work with your own file or download the demonstration .docx and .doc files.

SEE: Microsoft 365: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The default table

When you insert a table or convert text into a table, Word positions it between the left and right margins (Figure A) – you can easily change this. And, there are several ways you can align a table across the horizontal plane between the left and right margins.

Figure A

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The Microsoft Word table extends from the left to the right margin. 

The first thing you might want to change is the width. There's not enough text to fill the cells, and it looks odd. In addition, the readability is low. Your eyes try to take in the entire table at once instead of reading the content. Fortunately, changing the width is easy.

  1. Click the table to select it. Doing so will display two handles (Figure B): one in the top-left corner and one in the bottom-right corner.
  2. Hover the mouse over the one at the bottom-right corner and your mouse will turn into a double-arrow.
  3. Simply drag up and to the left to decrease the width of the table and the width of each cell. Figure C shows the results.

Figure B

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Display the Word table's handles.

Figure C

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This Word table looks better, and the readability is improved a bit.

The resized table is a better fit, and you could easily stop here, if you don't want it aligned differently.

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Alignment options

When you have a table that doesn't spread from the left to the right margin, you might want to align it. You can apply specific alignments or indent the table.

You have three alignments: left, center and right. The default table is aligned to the left margin. You can easily check that by selecting the entire table (not a cell) and viewing the alignment options in the Paragraph group on the Home tab. Figure C (above) shows the Align Left option selected. To align the table, select the table and click one of the other options: Center or Left Align. Using these three options you can quickly and easily align your table to the left, center, or right of the page.

You can also use the Table Properties option to align a table. To access these options, right-click anywhere in the table and choose Table Properties from the resulting submenu. On the Table tab, choose an option from the Alignment section, and click OK. As you can see in Figure D, there are lots of properties, but we're concerned with only those in the Alignment section. You might want to return later and review all the other options.

Figure D

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By default, the Word table is aligned to the left margin.

The final alignment option is Indent From Left. This allows you to easily indent the table from the left margin. It's the option to use if you need to be precise in that placement. You can do the same thing by dragging the table and using the ruler to snap the table into position (Figure E). Or use the Increase Indent option in the Paragraph group to move the table a half inch at a time.

Figure E

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Drag the Word table to reposition between the left and right margins.

Aligning the content within each cell is just as easy using the Table Properties. On the Table tab, click the Options button to open the Table Options shown in Figure F. The Default Cell Margins section lets you change the size of all four margins. By default, the Automatically Resize To Fit Contents option is selected. To center or right align content in the cell, use the alignment options in the Paragraph group. However, you must select the text rather than the entire table; otherwise, clicking an option will align the table and not the content within the cells. Figure G shows the result of selecting the content (not the table) and clicking Right Align.

Figure F

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Use these options to change cell margins.

Figure G

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Use the alignment options to align content within the cell.

SEE: Windows 10: Lists of vocal commands for speech recognition and dictation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Word Online

Aligning is a bit different in Word Online, but still simple. With the table selected, right-click it and choose Paragraph Options. Use the Alignment dropdown in the General section. Using the Align options on the menu will align the text within the cells, not the table. So far, everything we've done has been clear cut, but you might have noticed that the text is positioned as a paragraph. The text doesn't flow around the table.

Wrapping text

If you want text to wrap around the table, you need to change another default option. Go back to the Table Properties dialog. Below the alignment options, you'll see the text wrapping options. The default is no wrapping. Simply click the Around option (Figure H) and click OK. As you can see, this option pulls up the text below and wraps it around the table. I clicked Backspace twice to pull the text up to align it with the top of the table. Pulling the text up this way may cause the paragraph to adopt some of the table's properties. Simply click Normal to fix that.

Figure H

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You can wrap text around the text.

Stay tuned

Aligning Word tables as a whole is a simple task, and there are a number of ways to get the alignment you want. If you repeat this task often, you might want to change the default alignment; in a future article, I'll show you how to do so.

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