Table tricks in Word 2003

The tables function in Word is very handy and not just for producing obvious grids of information.


The tables function in Word is very handy and not just for producing obvious grids of information. The same feature has some tricky uses available to mere mortals, as we’ll describe in this issue.

You can make mini-spreadsheets in Word, we’ll show you how to make them and when to switch to Excel.

There are some nice ways to make titles and sub-titles both across and down tables.

Positioning text and images exactly where you want them on a page can be difficult until you put them inside a table to control what goes where.

Finally we mention the options to sort the contents of a table instead of manually adding rows in specific places.


There are some spreadsheet-like options available in Word tables that let you do some simple spreadsheet-like calculations. It’s no Excel, not even mini-Excel – more like an embryonic Excel but it does the job.

For example you can calculate the SUM, AVERAGE, MIN or MAX for a group of numbers in a table. The functions available depend on your version of Word.

Choose Insert | Field then choose the Formula or = sign, and Word will display the various options available to you.

Cells in a table have the same cell reference system as a normal worksheet. The top left cell of a Word table is A1, the one to the left is B1 while the one below A1 is A2.

This can be hard to keep track of for a larger table (since there’s no cell references displayed in Word tables) but you can use bookmarks to label cells.

There are four useful shortcuts in Word table formulas, ABOVE, BELOW, LEFT and RIGHT – for example SUM(ABOVE) will add up the numeric only cell value in the cells immediately above. Use this to create summaries at the bottom or right of a table.

These shortcuts will operate on numeric cells only until it hits a text or blank cell, and any other numeric cells are ignored. You have to make sure that all cells in a row/column have either a number or zero (except, of course, the label cells at the end (top or left)).

You also have to make sure that the calculation is refreshed if you change the values. Unlike Excel, the formulas are not automatically updated unless you highlight the formulas and press F9.

These formulas are entered as Word fields, so you have to press Alt+F9 to toggle between displaying the field and the contents. A simple formula looks like this: {=SUM(ABOVE)} or with some formatting of the number {=SUM(LEFT) # “$#,##0.00;($#,##0.00)”} to display with a dollar sign and two decimal places.

This trick works for small tables but you’ll quickly get to the stage where you’re better off creating the table in Excel with its better formatting, function and re-calculation options.


Recent versions of Word have a merge cells option (just like Excel) which is useful for putting a title on a table that moves with the table (instead of text above a table). Select the top row of cells in a table, right click and choose ‘Merge Cells’ to create one large cell. Type text into the merged cell, center and format to taste.

You can also do this to create a sub-title that spans one or more columns in a table.

Merging cells in a column is also possible to create a label that spans several rows of information. If you wish, combine this with the text alignment option that we’ll talk about below.


A default Word table comes with simple line borders, but if you remove those borders you can do some nifty text and image positioning tricks that are invisible to the reader. Without the border lines displayed on the page the effect looks very nifty indeed.

For example, if you want to create a signature block at the bottom of a contract with places for signature and date you can put the elements in a borderless table which can be centered on the page.

Each element can be positioned within the cell independently of the other cells – so you can have left, right and centered elements apparently on the same line but actually in separate unseen cells.

Tables do not have to be the full width of a page, they can be a fixed width or percentage of the page width. This gives you positioning options within a page that can automatically alter if the page settings change.

You can also position cell contents vertically as well as horizontally. Choose Table Properties | Cell | Vertical Alignment to select from Top, Center and Bottom.

We talk about this in detail, with examples and step-by-step instructions in our ebook Eye-Catching Signs with Word.

A table can also be positioned and wrapped around the main text, just like a picture but you can include a mix of images and text.

To put a block on the right side of the page, create a narrow width table, choose Table Properties, Table, then right positioning and text wrapping around. You can then put whatever you like into the table (which might only be a single cell) – whether you have a border around the block is up to you.


Word 2003 added some useful shortcuts for cell positioning.

Right-click on a table cell and you’ll see a ‘cell alignment’ option with a fly-out displaying all nine permutations of horizontal and vertical alignment (from ‘top and left’ through ‘fully centered’ to ‘bottom and right’)

There is also an option to change the alignment of text from horizontal to vertical – right-click on a cell to see the text alignment option.


Word tables can be sorted into order, much the same way as Excel tables, just choose a table and go to Table | Sort.

I’ve often seen people laboriously inserting rows into the middle of an existing table to put new data in the right place alphabetically. This isn’t necessary because you can add the new info to the bottom of the table then re-sort the entire table when you’ve finished.

Kara Monroe went into much detail about sorting in these issues of Office for Mere Mortals – Part 1 and Part 2