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Differing Column Widths when Pasting

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Differing Column Widths when Pasting.

When working with tables, it is not uncommon to cut rows from one table and paste them into another. The result of such actions may not be what you expect, however. The pasted rows—even if they have the same number of columns as the target table—may look "out of balance," with the cell borders not lining up with the row now above or below it.

There are a couple of ways you can fix this situation. The first solution involves making a change to how you actually paste the rows into the target table. Try this the next time you want to do the pasting:

  1. Make sure that you have Show All turned on. (Clicking on the toolbar tool that looks like a backwards P.)
  2. Add a blank row at the end of the target table. There should be nothing in this row.
  3. In the source table, select the cells in the rows you want to copy. It is imperative that you do not select the end-of-row marker at the end of these rows. In other words, everything in these rows should be selected, except the end-of-row markers. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. What to select in the table.

  5. Press Ctrl+C to copy the information to the Clipboard.
  6. In the target table, position the insertion point in the left-most cell of the new row you added in step 2. (Remember, this row should be blank.)
  7. Press Ctrl+V.

If you follow this process, then the content from the source table is copied into cells in the target table. New rows are created, as necessary, and these rows have the same cell widths as the other rows in the table.

There is one gottcha here. Notice that this technique involves adding a blank row at the end of the table (step 2). This is because when you paste into the last row, Word automatically adds as many rows as you need. If you want to paste the source information in some other location within the table, then you may end up overwriting information already in the table—unless you add enough blank rows to accommodate the data that will be pasted into the table.

If you are working with a table that already has messed-up column widths on individual rows, then you obviously cannot use the above technique. Instead, you may want to use the AutoFit feature of Word. If you are using Word 97, follow these steps:

  1. Select the entire table.
  2. Choose Cell Height and Width from the Table menu. This displays the Cell Height and Width dialog box.
  3. Make sure the Column tab is selected.
  4. Click on AutoFit.

If you are using Word 2000, Word 2002, or Word 2003 the procedure is a bit different:

  1. Select the entire table.
  2. Choose AutoFit from the Table menu. Word displays a submenu.
  3. Choose AutoFit to Contents from the Submenu.

If desired, you can also use AutoFit by just double-clicking on the left border of the table.

Another approach is to do a table-to-text-to-table conversion process, which ends up in allowing Word to define new column widths. Follow these general steps:

  1. Select your entire table.
  2. Convert the table to text, making sure that you specify tabs as your delimiters.
  3. Immediately convert the text back to a table, making sure you indicate that tabs are the column delimiters.

Finally, if you have quite a few tables with messed-up column widths, you can create a macro that will go through and essentially perform an AutoFit on each table in the document.

Sub AutoFitAllTables()
    Dim oTbl As Table
    For Each oTbl In ActiveDocument.Tables
    Next oTbl
End Sub

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (3897) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Differing Column Widths when Pasting.

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