Sorting paragraphs using Word – Part 1

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You are probably aware that Microsoft Excel can be used to put all of your data in order, but Microsoft Word has some pretty powerful sorting capabilities of its own, as long as you know how to enter the information into Word in a format that it can understand.

SORTING PARAGRAPHS AND MORE USING MICROSOFT WORD


By Kara Monroe

You are probably aware that Microsoft Excel can be used to put all of your data in order, but Microsoft Word has some pretty powerful sorting capabilities of its own, as long as you know how to enter the information into Word in a format that it can understand.


A NEW WAY OF LOOKING AT PARAGRAPHS

A paragraph to Microsoft Word isn’t the same as it was to your elementary school English teacher.  You probably think of a paragraph as a group of sentences that both state and support a single idea.  However, to a word processor, a paragraph is where you press the Enter key.  Therefore, Microsoft Word looks at each new group of characters followed by the Enter key as a paragraph.  You may type only one word or you may type 300 words before you hit Enter, but none the less, each of those groups of letters is a paragraph.

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MORE THAN JUST LETTERS

As you know, you’re not limited to just typing letters into Microsoft Word. You can also enter numbers, symbols, and spaces. Word will sort each of these in groups using basic rules of alphabetizing and numerical ordering. Symbols will appear first, followed by spaces, followed by letters and then numbers. Let’s take a look at a simple set of “paragraphs” to see this in action.


The list

twelve
sixteen
  eighteen
$twenty


Will become this list after sorting:

$twenty
  eighteen
sixteen
twelve

Now let’s give a few simple and a few more advanced options a try.

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THE SORT DIALOG BOX

You sort paragraphs using the Sort dialog box which is under the table menu in Microsoft Word. Don’t let the fact that the Sort option is listed under the Tables menu. While it can be used to sort information in a table, the feature is definitely not limited to use with data in a table. To sort a set of paragraphs, simply select the paragraphs and then select Table > Sort to bring up the dialog box. You’ll notice that the Sort dialog box has several different selection boxes – we’ll get into those in a minute. For now, just be sure that “No Header Row” radio button is selected (assuming your list has no header row) and then click OK. Your list should now be sorted. Try the following list:


The paragraphs

one
two
three
four
five


will appear like this after sorting:

five
four
one
three
two

The basic sort feature using text is incredibly useful for alphabetizing lists of names such as in a reference list or for making a list of names more easily readable.

If you transcribe the words in the resulting list into numbers, then you can use word to re-sort the list back into numerical order

5
4
1
3
2

will be sorted back into numerical order. When you open the sort dialog box to perform this sort, you should find that Word has automatically changed the “Type” box to Number for you so you don’t have to select this. Clicking OK will place the list of numbers back into numerical order. If you’ve ever wanted to quickly reorder five or six different written paragraphs without having to drag and drop or cut and paste each one, this can be a helpful feature. Just put a number in front of each paragraph symbolizing the new order in which you want them to appear, select the paragraphs, and then choose Sort and change the type to number. The paragraphs will appear in the new order and all you have to do is delete your numerical labels from the front of each paragraph.

The sort above will yield the same results regardless of whether you choose “Text”, or “Number” from the “Type” box. The same is not the case if you’re using numbers with varying numbers of digits. To see the differences in the way Word sorts numbers when using the Text or Numbers feature, let’s look at an example. Consider the group of numbers:

23
185
42
3887

We could easily sort these back into their correct numerical order manually, but instead we’ll have a bit of fun with Word’s sort feature. If you select these four paragraphs and then choose Table > Sort, again the Type box should automatically default to Number. You can go ahead and perform the sort and get the expected result of:

23
42
185
3887

However, if you change the sort type back to Text you will get some unexpected results:

185
23
3887
42

Notice that Word sorts by first digit. That’s because alphabetic sort rules are being used rather than numerical sort rules. When we alphabetize, we sort by first letter. When two words have the same first letter we sort by second letter and so on. You’ll notice that this is exactly what word has done with the numbers.

The third data type that can be used in a Microsoft Word sort is date. Microsoft Word will recognize dates entered using forward slashes (/), hyphens (-), periods (.), or commas (,) as separators between each part of the date. When sorting by date, Word will read the year first, then the month, and then the day and will give you a properly sorted list of dates.

We’ll look at some Sorting options in more detail in Part 2 of this article.

 


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