Tips for Tables

An Excel spreadsheet is a wonderful tool for processing large amounts of data to achieve the information needed to make decisions. Many times a part of a spreadsheet is just cut and pasted into a Word document to serve as a table. Here are some tips on how to make your tables better.

The goal of having a table in a document is to communicate a lot of information in a concise way that is easy to comprehend. Less is more in this situation, as too much data or too much formatting can interfere with readability and understanding.

One thing I like to do with tables is to make the Row and Column Headings bold to highlight them and separate them visually from the data in the cells. Another way to do this is to make the Column Heading background a light color, such as 10% gray. If you include the units in the heading, then you don’t need to take up so much room in the cells, and the numbers in the cells can still be used in calculations (they can’t if there is a mix of both a number and a unit in the same cell).

Another trick I like to do is to make the font bold for any averages or totals in the bottom row or in the right column, as these numbers carry more meaning. Such numbers are also more likely be used for other purposes, e.g., to prepare budgets, so the bold type makes them easier to find quickly.

When choosing how to justify the text in a column, I usually use right justification for money or numbers that vary in length, left justification if the text wraps around and continues on the next line, and centered for nearly everything else. I also like to have my cells’ vertical alignment in the center for single lines of text, and at the top for wrapped lines of text. To both align and justify a bunch of cells in a Word table, select or highlight them, right click, scoot down to Cell Alignment, then choose which of the nine options you need.

Finally, give your table an informative and descriptive title. If there are multiple tables in your document, number them. Put any information about exceptions or assumptions in a footnote, so if the table is copied into another document, that information goes along with it to the new location.

One Response to “Tips for Tables”

  1. Rhonda Says:

    One I use for decimal numbers is the decimal tab. It aligns all the numbers around the decimal point, making it clear what the whole and parts of the numbers are. Here’s how to align at the decimal point: http://cybertext.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/word-align-decimal-numbers/

    –Rhonda

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