4 tricks to make the most of your tables in Word


by Julie Duncan


Microsoft Word2002/2003/2007/2010/2013

Operating System:

Microsoft Windows



Everyone knows how to insert a basic table in Word, but why would you when Excel is far and away a more robust application for ordering data? You might be surprised at the many available—and useful—features of Word’s tables. We’ll teach you four ways to increase your Word table IQ so you can quickly and easily add dimension—and illustrative data—to your Word documents.

  • To improve the tables you create, we’ll:
  • Sort a table to sift through data quickly.
  • Place two tables side by side.
  • Create a repeating table header.
  • Quickly number table rows.


Word tables are easy to learn but hard to perfect. Though the basics are very straightforward, you may not be comfortable with advanced table formatting. If you find creating and modifying tables frustrating or time-intensive, put these four tricks to the test. Our tips will help you create highly polished tables with very little effort.


#1: Sort your table

Tables are made to organize information and help users make sense of data more quickly than they would if they were reading plain text. However, simply placing data in a table doesn’t mean you’ve efficiently organized it. Sorting your table data allows you to spotlight a particular aspect of the information displayed. Let’s take a look at how sorting works.

Our sample table lists actors and actresses who’ve received five or more nominations for Academy Awards. Currently the table is sorted by the number of total nominations, but we will sort them based on the number of nominations for best actor or actress.

Tip: To follow along with our example, download the sample file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and open Awards.doc.


To sort a table:

  1. Click anywhere in your table.
  2. Click on the Table Selection arrow at the upper-left corner of the table to select the entire table.
  3. On the main ribbon, click on the Table Tools Layout contextual tab. In the Data area, click on Sort.
  4. In the Sort dialog box, select Nominated For Actor/ from the Sort By dropdown list.
  5. In the Sort By area, click on Descending, as shown in Figure A. Click OK.

The table’s contents are now sorted based on the number of nominations for best actor or actress. This way, if a user is more interested in best actor or actress awards than in supporting actor or actress awards, it is easy to see which actors lead in this category.

Remember: You can use the Undo feature if you’d like to switch back to sorting by total number of nominations.



Use the Sort dialog box to sort the data in your table.

#2: Create side-by-side tables

Another useful method for understanding information is to compare and contrast. You can easily compare table data by creating two separate tables side by side. Either place the tables next to one another, or put the tables in text boxes so that you have more control over their placement.

To create side-by-side tables:

  1. Navigate to page 3 of Awards.doc, where you’ll see two narrow tables.
  2. Click in the second table.
  3. Click and drag the Table Selection arrow to move the second table next to the first.


The above method works well for simple layouts. If you want to add a title above the tables, as shown in Figure B, or move the tables around, it’s much easier to place the tables in text boxes. To prepare, undo the changes you just made so you can use our sample document for this text box method.




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