Indexing 'bug' in Microsoft Word tables

A peculiarity of indexes when you use big table cells to format your Microsoft Word document — and a suggested solution.

Karen from New Mexico wrote to us describing a strange behavior in her Word document indexes.  The documents are class handouts with each topic as a new row in a two column table.  This means a row can be very long, sometimes spanning several pages which causes trouble or misunderstanding when indexing.

The problem arises with the index to the entire handout — the page reference inserted by Word is to the page where the row (containing the word) starts, not the page where the word is actually printed.

We’re not sure Microsoft would consider that a bug.  The real problem is that the index function considers everything inside a table cell to be located where the cell starts.

While tables and cells can span many pages they weren’t really intended for that and if you stretch technologies too far you’ll often find anomalies like this.

The simplest solution is to put a note/footnote on the index to say something like ‘Page references are to the start of the topic’.

If you really need indexing to be accurate to the page then you’d have to re-format your documents. What Karen is doing could also be achieved with section and column breaks.

Each of the topics would start with a section break (continuous) then the section can be formatted to two columns. The column widths can be formatted according to your wishes.

After the topic etc on the left, insert a column break to force the rest of the content to go into the right column.

Creating some custom styles would make this easier to arrange.