Thrive Blog

Thrive's Top Tips: Tame those Tables!

This post is a part of the series 'Thrive's Top Tips' - focussing on a specific topic to help you #worksmarternotharder, with some of my personal shortcuts and tips thrown in for good measure!

This post is about creating and managing tables in Microsoft Word.

If you work in documents regularly, chances are you have wrangled more than once with a table that just

Trust me - it happens to the best of us! 😊

So, what I wanted to do was cover off on some of the things I always do when I create a table in a document, as well as share some awesome keyboard shortcuts. I've also got a couple of links to some excellent resources that can help as well.

Shall we start then?

The first thing I like to do is take a good look at what I need this table to do. Sounds simple, but if you think about these key questions before you create a table, it can save a whole bunch of headaches afterwards!

Right - so the key things I ask myself are:
  • Is this table going to contain a lot of text, or is it focussed on numbers? Am I using currency ($0.00), percentages (%), or numbers?
  • Would it be easier to read if it was landscape (the page was turned sideways), and took up the whole page, or will it fit nicely with text above and/or below it? Is all of the content linked in some way, or could this be two (or more) tables? Or should there be some additional text content to support what's in the table?
  • Do I have clear headings for the table rows/columns?
  • Will I need to highlight or draw attention to any particular rows or columns?
  • Do I have a clear brand guideline, or at least know what fonts and colours I can use in this document that are appropriate?
It might seem like a lot to ask before you even start, but knowing these things will absolutely help. Let's break it down.

Is this table about text, or numbers?

This will determine how you align your content - text should always be aligned left or justified. Numbers should be aligned centre (percentages, numbers), and there is a specific format for currency which is built into word, that means the dollars and cents always line up!

Should the table be landscape and full page, or portrait and within the text?

If you want to put it within the text, you should always make sure you align your spacing to give the table room on either side. You should also centre align the table to the page, so that it sits balanced on the page with the text.

If you need it to be a landscape, full page table, then you need to insert section breaks, and attend to your headers and footers to accommodate the layout change. You should also fit the table to the window, so it appropriately fills the page, instead of producing large and unbalanced amounts of white space.

Do I have clear headings for rows and columns?

You should always put yourself in the position of your audience. Are they going to understand what you need them to know from your table? Is it clear?

Knowing your headings is also really helpful for working out the size of your columns and rows, so your text doesn't get squashed!

Will I need to highlight certain columns?

Again, thinking about your audience, and how to draw their attention to important information, should be at the front of mind for your table design.

Will you highlight the entire cell? Change the colour, size or emphasis of the font? Add a comment or insert a shape or arrow to make that particular information stand out?

Do I have a brand guideline?

All of your documents need to look like they belong to you, and your brand. Having a brand guideline, no matter how simple, so you can ensure you consistently use the same fonts and colours across all of your documents, is a no brainer.

For tables, you need to work out which colours will work in the document. Typically, you would have a colour fill for the header rows, and a highlight colour that you will use for drawing attention (whether that's a shape, or simply the text colour itself).

For me, I like to keep body text black for ease of reading and printing for my clients.

You should also check that your colours will translate to black and white print, as your reader may not print your document in colour (and there's nothing worse than then printing out your table, and not being able to read a thing!!)

Thrive Table Formatting Tips

Ok. So all of that is great, but what does Thrive do to ensure that our tables look good, and are easy to use? These are the constants in every table I work on:
  • Table font 2pts smaller than main document text. It's still readable, but makes it sit slightly differently in the table, and differentiates it from the main content.
  • Table spacing is 2pts before text, and 2pts after text.
  • Header rows are centre aligned, body columns are left aligned (as I find the justified alignment can make the spacing look weird).
  • Header row is filled with a darker colour (in my case, it's a sage green), with white text in bold. The main content of the table is standard black text.
  • Table Header and Table Body text settings are saved as Styles in my templates, so I can apply them as I want to without any issue after I've built the table and filled the content.
  • The table layout itself is a single black line with no fill. Clear and concise, and easy to follow.
  • Table aligned as centred on the page from the Table Properties tab.

A Thrive Top Tip - remember to #worksmarter

Once you have the layouts that you like, play around and create a full page version, a smaller version, and a landscape page version, either in one of your templates, or in a blank new document. You can copy and paste it into your documents as you need it in future, or simply open the table document and create a table that you use as a stand alone document, without having to reformat it each time!

Want some more direct formatting shortcuts? Of course you do!

These are some that I love to use, rather than jumping around with the mouse or using the ribbon commands.

To select a column: Hold down Shift and press UP or DOWN arrow repeatedly To extend a selection: Control + Shift + F8, then use arrow keys to select cells. Select the entire table: Alt + 5 (on number keypad, with NUM LOCK off) Insert a Tab (indent): Control + Tab Remove a selection: Shift + F8

**Apple users, don't forget to make the following adjustments: - ALT on a Windows keyboard is Option on a Mac - CONTROL on a Windows keyboard is Command on a Mac - RIGHT CLICK with mouse on a Windows keyboard is Control on a Mac

Where to from here?

If you are interested in delving deeper into Tables, and understanding more about the formatting options available to you, you should definitely get a copy of our e-book A Thrive Guide to...Taming Tables in Word. It covers more formatting elements to help make your tables reflect you, and your brand, every time!

Still not sure how to get your tables working properly? Or maybe you just don't have the time to do it right now (trust me, you aren't alone there)? Get in touch directly, and we can discuss how Thrive can help get you where you need to be. We offer troubleshooting sessions and custom formatting services, on top of having our bank of ebooks and resources to help you handle it DIY-style.

If you want to be in the know about the next Top Tips post, or to get special offers on our services and products, you should absolutely be getting our Thrive Update. The Update is a fortnightly newsletter that includes additional tips and tricks to help you work smarter every day, along with resources and offers designed exclusively for our subscribers.

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Thrive's Top Tips - Formatting Marks in Word


Marianne Tansley

Marianne is your fast-talking, cheese-loving 'Microsoft Magician' and Online Business Manager (OBM) at Thrive Admin Services. Based in Hervey Bay, QLD, with her husband and their two dogs (Eli and Skye), she's a natural problem-solver, with a knack for seeing both the big picture and the small steps needed to make it a reality.

With over 20 years' corporate admin experience, she specialises in working with administration professionals and professional services business owners to share the tips, tricks and features inside your existing Microsoft 365 subscription to create the systems and processes of your dreams! It's all about reducing the overwhelm, frustration and heavy tech-talk, to create common-sense practical systems and processes that make sense to you! After all, sharing is caring!

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