8 Formatting Tips for Perfect Tables in Microsoft Word

Saikat Basu Updated 02-01-2019

You just cannot create beautiful Microsoft Word documents by cutting corners on tables. On Microsoft Word, tables are essential formatting tools. Microsoft Office has made it easier to create and format basic tables in Microsoft Word for Office 365, Word 2019,  Word 2016, and Word 2013.


We haven’t covered tables as much as we would have liked to. It’s time to correct that as the number of people asking questions on how to format tables properly is piling up. Maybe these eight table tips can be an appetizer.

By the way, it’s possible to get a free copy of Microsoft Word Yes, Get Microsoft Word for Free: Here's How Don't want to pay for the full Microsoft Word experience? Here are some ways on how you can use Microsoft Word for free. Read More , should you need one.

1. How to Make a Table in Microsoft Word

Using tables and even changing them on the fly according to the data has become far easier in the newer versions of Word like Microsoft Word 2019 and Office 365. Intuitive formatting features give you finer (and quicker) control over how a table looks. But first head to the Ribbon > Insert > Table > Insert Table for making your first table.

It gives you five options for creating your first table.

The quickest way to start is with Quick Tables. The built-in designs save you from the lack of design skills. You can modify the designs by adding your own rows and columns or deleting the ones you don’t need.


Microsoft Word-Insert Table

Another quick way to create a table in Word is the Insert Control feature. You can create a new column or row with one click. Hover the mouse over a table. A bar appears right outside your table between two existing columns or rows. click on it when it appears, and a new column or row will be inserted at that position.

Microsoft Word-Table-Insert ControlWhen you want to move or order a row around, use the combination of Alt+Shift+Up Arrow and Alt+Shift+Down Arrow to order the row up or down. Move contiguous rows by selecting them all first.

How to Position Your Table on the Page?

Right-click on the table and select Table Properties from the context menu. The Table Properties dialog box is for precise control over the data and its display. Control the size, alignment, and indentation of the table.


By default, Word aligns a table on the left. If you want to center a table on the page, select the Table tab. Click on Alignment > Center.

The Indent from left figure controls the distance of the table from the left margin.

Microsoft Word-Table Properties

Position the table according to the text around it for a visually aesthetic look. Wrap text around tables by dragging it by the handle. The text wrapping changes automatically from None to Around. From the Table Positioning dialog box, you can set the Distance from surrounding text for each side of the table.


Microsoft Word-Position Table

Select Move with Text if the text is directly related to the table data. The table is vertically aligned to the related paragraph around it. If the table data applies to the whole document, you can keep the option unchecked.

2. Use the Ruler

Sizing tables and positioning them accurately is an art in itself. If you need precise measurements to size your rows and columns—use the ruler.

Use Microsoft Word Ruler to Position Tables


Hover the mouse over a border. When the double-arrow pointer appears, click the border and hold down the ALT key. Microsoft Word shows specific measurements on the ruler This Tip Gives You Precise Ruler Measurements in Microsoft Word When you want to set ruler-based settings, such as tab indent size, mouse-dragging sometimes lacks precision -- unless you use this quick tip. Read More . Move the rows and columns to fit your measurements.

3. Convert Text to Table (and Vice Versa)

Tabular data gives information its structure. It would have been frustrating if Word didn’t have something to handle non-tabular data. You can convert data to tables instantly from the Insert Table command.

Select the text. Go to Ribbon > Insert > Table > Insert Table

Microsoft Word Convert Text to Table

Microsoft Word determines the required number of rows and columns by considering the text separators and then auto-fits the contents. The Convert Text to Table dialog box allows you more control if the previous operation doesn’t work out right. You can also choose how to fit the contents of the table on the page.

Specify rows and columns for table.

You can specify how Microsoft Word should separate the data into rows and columns. Paragraph, tabs, commas, or any other delimiting character. This allows you to easily import non-tabular data from CSV files or plain TXT files and convert them into formatted tables.

Convert Table to Text

Engineer the reverse process if someone asks you to send them files with comma separated values or any other delineator. Select the entire table by clicking the “move” handle above the table.

Go to Ribbon > Table Tools > Layout > In the Data Group, click Convert to Text.

Convert table to text.

Simple text can be boring. When you have the chance, convert your table of data to a more visual chart instead with one of the underused features in Microsoft Word 10 Hidden Features of Microsoft Word That'll Make Your Life Easier Microsoft Word wouldn't be the tool it is without its productive features. Here are several features that can help you every day. Read More .

4. Auto-Fill Column Numbers

Microsoft Excel makes auto-filling a sequence of numbers very easy. Microsoft Word does not and you may have to resort to a manual job. There is a simpler way.

Create a new column for the serial numbers if it does not exist. Select this column by positioning the mouse over the column.

With the column selected, go to Home > Paragraph > Click the Numbering button for inserting a numbered list.

Insert Numbers in Tables

A number sequence is inserted in the column automatically.

5. Freeze Those Tables!

Microsoft Word tables change their dimension to accommodate new data. There may be times when you do not want the table to change size at all, even when new data is inserted. That is—“freeze” the size of cells.

The first step is to specify a fixed size for the cells. Go to Table Properties > Row > Enter a value in the Specify height box. For Row height is select Exactly from the dropdown.

Freeze Tables in Microsoft Word

Now, select the Table tab > click the Options button > uncheck the Automatically Resize to Fit Contents check box.

Microsoft Word - Do Not Resize Table

Click OK twice to exit the Table Properties dialog box.

This also solves the problem of inserting an image into a cell without the cell expanding to accommodate the image. If the image is bigger than the available space in the cell, it gets cropped to fit within the cell.

6. Change Rows Into Columns in a Table

There are situations where you have to change rows into columns and columns into rows. One possible scenario is where the number of columns exceeds the page margin. Switching columns around to rows and vice-versa is called transposition.

The bad news is that Word does not have an inbuilt method for handling this yet. Microsoft suggests that you copy-paste your table into Microsoft Excel and use its Transpose command. The transposed table can now be copy-pasted back into Microsoft Word.

Change Rows Into Columns in a Table

Dann shows how easy it is in Excel with this short tutorial on switching rows into columns Excel Quick Tips: How to Flip Cells & Switch Rows or Columns Use these strategies in Microsoft Excel to quickly flip rows, turn columns into rows, flip rows, and save a lot of wasted time! Read More . Also, take the help of Microsoft’s Support Page if you run into a problem using the Transpose command.

7. Paste Perfect Excel Tables into Gmail

You will find a use for this simple workaround. By default, Gmail does not retain the spreadsheet format when you paste from Microsoft Excel. To email tabular data without sending it as a separate attachment, use Microsoft Word as a bridge.

Paste Perfect Excel Tables into Gmail

Select and copy-paste the Microsoft Excel table to a Microsoft Word document with the source formatting. Now, copy-paste from Microsoft Word to Gmail. As you can see from the screenshot, the problem is solved. You might have to tweak the more heavily formatted tables slightly, but most of the formatting is retained.

8. Reuse Your Tables to Save Time

You can save a lot of time by re-using tables when you create professional reports and documents How to Create Professional Reports and Documents in Microsoft Word This guide examines the elements of a professional report and reviews the structuring, styling, and finalizing of your document in Microsoft Word. Read More . Save empty table formats and insert new data when required. With this quick save, you won’t have to recreate the layout from scratch for new data.

Select a table. Go to Ribbon > Insert > Text group > click Quick Parts > Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery.

Save to Quick Parts

After you save a selection to the Quick Part Gallery, you can reuse the selection by clicking Quick Parts and choosing the selection from the gallery.

Use the Building Blocks Organizer to preview any table you created. You can also edit properties and delete the tables from here. 

Do Microsoft Word Tables Confuse You?

These tips aren’t enough to cover the scope of tables in our everyday work. I haven’t talked about the role of the Design tab in creating eye-catching tables. That is a topic in itself. But it is one of the lesser areas to get confused over thanks to the visual help in that tab.

Tables are one common area between Microsoft Word and Excel. Microsoft Excel is for power managing tabular data, but doing them well in both is an essential Microsoft Office skill. Use them at every opportunity.

If you’re creating a professional document, remember to add a cover page How to Make a Custom Cover Page in Microsoft Word A strong cover page design is a great way to stylize your document. We show you how to make your own cover page in Microsoft Word. Read More .

Related topics: Microsoft Office 2013, Microsoft Word.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Jess
    May 10, 2019 at 12:02 am


    I've added some table styles into Quick Table, saved the document as template and send that to my client. However, they cannot see the new tables I've created. Can you please advise?


  2. Helma
    August 31, 2017 at 7:56 am

    A Word table annoyance that confuses me, is adding a column and all the other column widths will resize.
    For example: I want to add a small column on the left to put in the row number to an existing table with data.
    First I adjust the left-indent of the table in -0.6 cm
    Then I add a column, setting the width to 0.6 cm
    But all the other columns have another width now.
    How can I solve this?

  3. dani
    July 31, 2017 at 5:06 am

  4. Janet Gyford
    June 14, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    PS I think I said Windows XP when I meant Word 97 !

  5. Janet Gyford
    June 14, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    I just want to arrange my table, so that it's in alphabetical order of one of the inside columns (Windows 10). Like everything else, it was all so easy in Windows XP !

  6. Dallas Rackow
    June 10, 2017 at 2:42 am

    please,check my site for hot news

  7. Christi
    May 3, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    I have text at the top of my page. Below the text, I want two separate tables side by side, so that the row heights of each table adjust independently.
    I can't figure out how to put just the two tables in their own two columns without affecting the format of the text above the columns.
    Any suggestions?

    • Saikat Basu
      May 5, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      Place tables side by side in a document using text boxes to keep them in place. The free text can be on top, or you can use another text box to contain the non-table text. Hope this helps.

  8. Josefina Almerinda
    February 28, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    My biggest issue with tables is that every time that I copy paste any anything within or to and from another table, Word just reverts back all the formatting! (font, font size, color, tabs, everything!) Even when I press the delete key in order to delete a paragraph, the previous paragraph immediately looses its formatting... I have no idea why...
    It is very hard to work on one table and not have to edit every single sentence that I write. If there is a solution for this, it would be great.
    Working with tables in word is a pain.

    • Saikat Basu
      March 5, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      You can control the formatting with the Paste Options button.

  9. Chris Westland
    February 5, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    Wow ... how useless could this get. Of course the major problem with tables in Word is that the formatting won't stay fixed. So all of these little button pushes will just be reversed the next time you type a letter. I'd love to find a proper alternative to Word, but oddly, no one seems to want to write one ... other packages (e.g., Pages) are worse. And sadly, Microsoft doesn't care about it's Office users ... their response is "we control the market, so live with it". Thanks for the tips Saikat Basu.

    • Barry Thistlethwaite
      October 9, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      You can apply a standard table format to your tables from the Table Tools group, Design tab, Table Styles section. You could also create your own custom table style if Microsoft didn't make it incredibly difficult, non-intuitive, and complex to do so.

      An option to save the current table as a Table Style would make it too easy for users. And it's so awesomely obscure to apply banding to the header rows, for example. Machiavelli would be proud!

  10. Jennifer
    September 13, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    Hello! I am working with Table Styles, and am trying to use the “Repeat as header row at the top of each page” function. I am able to get it to work in individual tables, but not as an general Table Style. I need to provide this as a template to my client, so I need it to be a preset attribute of the Table Style. As a test, I tried to select the “Repeat as header…” functionality in one of Word’s preset Table Styles, and it gave me the same error—putting the background color of the top row into the entire table. Any help much appreciated!

    • Saikat Basu
      September 14, 2016 at 7:21 am

      Possible reasons:
      - The table is joined to an earlier table (which had gridlines hidden). Once you disconnect the table, the header row will appear on all pages.
      - If the table contains a manual page break, the header will not repeat. You can, however, insert a page break without breaking the table by formatting a row as "Page break before" (on the Line and Page Breaks tab of the Paragraph dialog).
      - The table must have text wrapping set to None (Table tab of Table Properties).

      Doe this help?

    • Jennifer
      September 14, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Hi Saikat,
      Thanks so much for your prompt reply. Unfortunately, none of your suggestions apply to my file. None of the tables are joined, there are no manual page breaks, and I have set text wrapping to "none". Also, the repeat header functionality works fine, as long as I'm applying it to a single table in the document. It only malfunctions when I try to apply it to a "Table Style". I have searched extensively online, and I find little evidence of this issue in relation to Table Styles, which makes me think people aren't using that aspect of this program very often (the Table Style part). And could it be a bug? I don't want to give up yet, but find it hard to believe Word has a functionality that works in a document, but they didn't carry it over to an overarching Style application (even though the interface is there to support it--you can select "Repeat as header row..." in a Table Style, it just doesn't work). Thanks again for your help.

    • Jennifer
      September 14, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Ah-hah! I think I figured it out! When you are modifying a Table Style, you need to make sure you've selected ""Header row" from the "Apply formatting to" dropdown. This is not required when you are placing the "repeat header" setting into a single table. So far, so good, we'll see if this gives me any more trouble moving forward. Thanks again for fielding my question!

    • Saikat Basu
      September 15, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      So, glad you could work it Jennifer :)

      The problem with answering so many of these questions is that it is often so difficult to duplicate. But NOW, the solution makes me see the problem more clearly!

  11. Laura
    August 9, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    I am trying to make a number/bullet list within a table, but it's not working properly. The initial list goes in fine, but I can't indent any lower bullets. For example, I can do this:

    But I can't do this:

    How can I indent bullet/number lists within a table? Thanks for your help.

    • Laura
      August 9, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      I tried to indent the list, but the comment format didn't take it. I mean that I can't do this, pretending the underscores aren't there:

    • Saikat Basu
      August 21, 2016 at 7:14 am

      Type 1 and press enter.

      Type a, but, instead of clicking enter, right-click and select "Increase Indent".
      "a" moves into the proper indentation of a nested bullet.

      Is this okay?

  12. Ture
    August 4, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    The text inside and outside of tables in my document has the same font and same size (11) when in editing mode - but in reading mode in Word 2016 the text in the table turns out to be smaller than the text outside of the tables, and the table itself is also smaller than in editing mode - why?

    How can this be fixed?

    I want the text size inside and outside of the table to be the same. At one point they were in my doc, but at some time it has changed ...

    July 29, 2016 at 9:35 am

    when i click in a cell in ms word to begin typing it selects the whole row. How can i stop or remove it?

  14. Ali
    July 5, 2016 at 9:46 am


    I am trying to align in the same row of a column in Word 2013 both flush left and flush right the text and I can t manage to do that using the tab command.

    Thanks in advance.


  15. Gorlax
    June 21, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Is there a way to disable the "Insert Control?" It's always in the way. Every time I try to edit text above or below a table and add an extra column. The ratio of accidental clicks to intentional ones is at least 10:1.

  16. mccarthy
    June 20, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    Is there a maximum amount of data in a cell that is visible to the reader when viewing an electronic version of the table? The data is in the cell, but it is only visible in part when I view the table on my computer screen. I selected autofit content when I created the table.

  17. jayashree
    June 15, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    i Have a huge Table with no inside border, when the table splits across pages the top and bottom border does not appear for the next page, How to fix this.

  18. William Holman
    June 3, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    Hello, We use tables quite a bit. We like our "paragraph" spacing to be 6 before and 6 after. This keeps nice distance between the top/bottom line of a cell within the table from the text. It keeps everything uncluttered. We have the spacing set at 6 for all of our tables. However, when we go to paste the information from Excel into the table, it reverts the spacing back to zero. This occurs even using paste text only and keep the current format. Anyway to get the same result or fix this issue?

    • Barry Thistlethwaite
      October 9, 2017 at 10:26 pm

      Format a paragraph in the style you want, and select it including the paragraph mark.
      Then click the drop-down menu in the Home tab/Styles group and click "Create a style." Name it something memorable like "Table Style." If you want to include both Font and Paragraph settings, make it a Linked style in the Style Type field.

      Apply the style to the cells. Then when you paste text only, Word should apply the Style you created. If it doesn't, you can quickly apply it.

  19. brenda
    May 30, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    i have created a student report for my school made up of several small tables. when the teachers insert text the tables grow nicely but this causes the tables below to shift down and leave a clumsy space. how can i fix this so the tables are fixed in their position?

    • Saikat Basu
      May 31, 2016 at 11:38 am

      From what I can visualize: text in a cell wraps and pushes everything else down which throws off the design.

      Go to Table Properties. Make sure the "Fit Text" check box is selected in the Cell options. of the cell where you are entering the text.

      Word decreases the width of the text horizontally, without adjusting it vertically.

  20. Clare
    April 15, 2016 at 7:35 am

    Hi there, I'm still using word 2010 and am looking to flip the pages so that the current last page of my document will be the top page and the current first page will be the last there a quick way of doing this or is it all cut and paste?

  21. Robert Moody
    March 14, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Hey Saikat (or should it be Hey Basu?),

    I'm using Word 2016 in Windows 10 Home.

    I am in the process of "cleaning up" numerous forms created by numerous inexperienced users over many years on our county school web site. As a rule, I create all my forms with tables and use table borders to create the "fill in the blank" parts.

    My problem is that often, after I choose "No borders" and when I go back to a cell to turn on the bottom border (creating the "fill-n-the-blank" line), Word will turn on the top border for the entire row beneath instead/as well. In some of the tables, I can turn off the top border for each individual cell below and that works...leaving the one cell with a bottom border like I intended. But, often, this turns off the bottom as well and I cannot get a bottom border on a single cell without leaving the top on across the entire row below.

    Here is an example that I've recently given up on.

    I'm beginning to wonder if this is a uninstall and reinstall Office 2016 situation.

    rmoody at

    • EC
      May 20, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      I have the exact same thing happening and it was driving me crazy! I figured out that I can bypass turning on the bottom border of the cell and instead use the border painter - it will paint just the bottom of the individual cell without turning on the top border of the row beneath.

  22. pat
    March 5, 2016 at 4:06 am

    Why - why - why do my stupid tables hug the top of my page overlapping even headers? Why would anyone, ever want a table to lie on top of a header?
    I have a margin set, and I have the wrap text set to none on the table. Still I fight this thing. I try to move it down, it hops back up.
    Why can I just move a table to where I want it to be? And why is the only tool to move a table up in one corner and you have to be a mouse whisperer to find the secret tiny spot to made the four-way arrow to appear. Moving a table is like moving a piano....with a VW.
    And who do I have to kill to get a page to be deleted?
    If anyone - anyone that programs for MS Word sat down and worked a program that is user friendly, and could steal some, even a few, of the intuitive, wysiwyg operations - I would throw a party.
    it is SOOOOOO frustrating - I have spent more time trying to format F-ing tables than I spent writing this whole *&@! proposal; and in the process Word shut down once losing all my most recent edits, then as I tried to cut and paste my tables into separate pages I lost a part of my table and had to re-key in 2 pages worth of data.
    what the hell guys?

    • Saikat Basu
      March 9, 2016 at 3:23 pm

      Frustrations adequately expressed :)

      Sometimes the best way to deal with tables is to start from scratch again!

  23. tammy
    February 24, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    I am having issues trying to get my lines________ to right align correctly when entering them after the name: address: city: etc.

    • Saikat Basu
      February 26, 2016 at 4:56 am

      Try this excellent "MVPS" article and tweak it according to the version of Word you use.

  24. Dianne
    February 18, 2016 at 1:09 am

    I'm having difficulty getting Header Rows to repeat on second page of a table which breaks across two pages.

    Any help with this would be appreciated.

    • Saikat Basu
      February 18, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      Which version of Word, Dianne?

      Did you choose this >

      Under Table Tools, on the Layout tab, in the Data group, click Repeat Header Rows.

      • Dianne
        February 18, 2016 at 8:36 pm

        Version 2013.

        I did try this and it shows the header rows highlighted but does not come up on the second page as 'header rows'.

        When the table goes over the page it just continues, with no 'header rows' inserted.

        Thanks for your help so far.

        • Saikat Basu
          February 20, 2016 at 1:43 am

          Also, the repeat is only visible in Print Layout or Print Preview. Just check.

          I did a Google search (try searching with a keyword like "[Solved] get header rows to repeat on second page of a table").

          Maybe, this similar solution could work for you as well.

  25. anantha krishna
    January 6, 2016 at 5:18 am

    there is another and yet very simpler way to create table in ms word. instead of insert-->table-->pick number of rows and columns (this is default), just type
    +-----+------+-----+-----+ (dont forget to close the line with a + again) and give enter.
    since each + denotes column and each - denotes width, you can pre-decide the width of each filed by using as many - - as the width of the field you need.

    also you can have two tables side by side, by creating two tables using above trick, then drop an drag one table to the side of other.

    feed back shall be /

  26. Anonymous
    October 16, 2015 at 2:01 am

    I received a document that has numerous formatting issues with tables. I have no idea where to begin. The table parts are on separate pages, and when I try to move a table is creates a blank page in between. I need serious help now. Willing to pay

  27. Anonymous
    October 8, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    I hunted around and found it. I kept looking on the ribbon/tab "Insert" but it was on the higher level Insert menu. What I didn't get was that this was simply an auto text capability, but it is sweet! I was able to insert a nicely formatted table without text in the cells.

    Thanks for responding!

    • Saikat Basu
      October 8, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Glad it worked out. It does save a lot of time in table rich documents :)

  28. Anonymous
    October 8, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Re-use tables - very excited to see this, but I can't find where to do this in the new Mac 2016 version. Do you know whether it is available?