Friday, July 05, 2013

MS Word Formatting Tip: Making Tables Look Nicer

Microsoft Word is no stranger to me -- neither is the rest of the suite, but mainly Word and Excel. We have been acquainted throughout the upper years of elementary school, again in college, and even more extensively at work.

Despite only occupying the position of administrative assistant officially for a three month temp stint, I have been the office go-to person for Word and Excel related questions forever. The funny and interesting thing, though, is that I learned the majority of what I know back in grade 10. It was an introduction to computers, software, or something class. Long story short, we spent the entire year working at computers going through workbooks based on Word, Excel, Access, and Powerpoint. That was back in 2001.

Table Formatting
Today, I am going to share with you a pet peeve of mine. It's been almost a decade since I started working professionally (i.e. for money) and the majority of that time has been in offices. As a bottom of the barrel employee, much time was spent proofreading and formatting the work of others -- one person actually told me to "make things prettier" once. Line spacing, margins, font types, font sizes, etc. are more of a personal preference, so I usually let those go. Put in a table and my serenity goes right out the window. Below is a picture of what I usually see.
Meh Table
If I'm lucky, I may occasionally see darker borders or something in bold. Vertical alignment and borders are usually the options that are modified the least in my experience. And before you say I'm picking on more "mature" people who were born before computers, you'd be wrong: I've seen the exact same thing from people my age and younger. Compare it with the one below, which is my standard go-to setup.
Better Table Formatting
Nicer Table?
Hopefully, the table on the bottom does look more attractive. The idea behind formatting for me is to call attention to certain things. Here's a walk-through of the "nicer" table:
  • Thicker outer border calls attention to the table on a page.
  • Main title and headings are shaded to call attention to the data type.
  • Main title is bold, larger, and uses a different font to delineate it from the heading titles.
  • Double line border below the title block delineates the title area from the body/data.
  • Columns and rows are sized to fit the data.
  • Numbers are right-aligned to make it easier to read them and compare.
  • Row headings are left aligned to make finding names easier.
There are no rules. Everything is context-sensitive and I change things up and break my own rules if something doesn't look right. The key is to develop a critical eye and understand what you want and how to get there. Having said that, here are my usual go-to styles when I feel lazy.
  • All text vertically and horizontally aligned.
  • Columns with Data right-aligned.
  • 3 pt border with 1 thick and 1 thin line for exterior of table.
  • 0.5 pt border with 2 thin lines to separate title and headings from main data.
  • Light grey or yellow shade for title and headings area -- think about how it'll come out in grey scale if you print.
  • Main title font in bold, at least 4 pt larger than main body font.
  • Font for headings in bold, 2 pt larger than main body font, and different font type than body.
  • Main body and data left plain, not in bold or italics. This allows important items to be in bold and to stand out.
Final Notes
Again, everything is context-sensitive. The key is to "try". Don't just create a table or put a border up to create an array of data and call it a day.

My tables and formatting aren't perfect or the best, but I think it's nicer than the majority of what I have seen in over half a dozen offices so far. And most importantly, I tried.