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Troubleshooting Word Tables

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Tearing your hair out when you use Word tables? They are very flexible and powerful, but sometimes the features you do not need get in the way those you do. Maybe this article can help. Peter Aitken provides some insight and tips for dealing with some problems you might encounter.
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Have you ever seen one of those Swiss Army Knives that has everything you can imagine and then some? Knife, screwdriver, file, scissors, spoon, fork, corkscrew, fish scaler, magnifying glass—and that’s just a small one! They are great tools, but sometimes when you need to use one item—let’s say the knife—the other items just get in the way and make your life harder.

Word tables are sort of like that. They are very flexible and powerful, but sometimes the features you don’t need get in the way of the features you do need. Also, there are times when other aspects of Word, such as styles and paragraph formatting, cause unexpected problems in tables. This article provides some insight into and tips for dealing with a few problems that people often encounter with Word tables.

I Can’t Get My Cell Margins Right

The margin in a table cell is the amount of blank space between the cell content and the cell border. Most often they are set the same for all cells in the table by going to the Table tab of the Table Options dialog box and clicking the Options button. The defaults are 0.08 inches right and left, and 0 inches top and bottom. You can also set the margins individually for a single cell by clicking the Options button on the Cell tab of the Table Options dialog box.

But what if the margins you set are not the margins you get? The culprit in this case is almost always the paragraph formatting of the text in the cell. If you look on the Indents and Spacing tab of the Paragraph format dialog box you’ll see two settings that can be involved.

The first is indentation. The left and right indents specified for the paragraph are operative in table cells as well as outside of tables. A positive setting for the left or right indent will increase the apparent left or right margin of the cell, and a negative setting can make the text "disappear" off the left or right edge of the cell.

The second paragraph format setting that might be involved is Spacing. In text outside of tables, these settings are used to add space between paragraphs. In a table, however, if you set a non-zero before or after spacing it will increase the apparent top or bottom cell margin in the same manner.

The final potential villain that can louse up your cell margins is not a paragraph format setting but rather a table setting. Found in the Table Options dialog box, it is called Default Cell Spacing. Some people refer to this setting as cell padding because that’s what it’s called when you are working with tables for Web pages. It controls the space between cells, which is not the same as the space between a cell’s edge and its content. This distinction is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Both cell spacing and margins contribute to the apparent distance between table cells.

In Word, cell spacing is set to zero by default, but this value can be changed n the Table Options dialog box. Also, if you import a Web table into Word any cell padding will be converted to cell spacing.

If your table has borders around each cell, or if you have table gridlines turned on, any cell spacing will be visible (as shown in Figure 1). With no borders or gridlines, however, cell spacing may be an undetected cause of cell margin problems.

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