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: Alphabetizing By Last Name.

Alphabetizing By Last Name

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 20, 2016)

It is not unusual to have a list of names in a document, and then need to sort those names. The format in which the names appear can be bothersome, however. For instance, if the names are in the order FIRST LAST, then it can be more challenging to sort them than if they are in a LAST, FIRST order. There are several ways you can accomplish the task, however. One way is with the use of tables. All you need to do is follow these general steps:

  1. Convert the text to a table, using the space between the first and last names as a separator between columns.
  2. Sort the names based upon the second column, which contains the last name.
  3. Convert the table back into text.

This process might sound difficult, but it can go very quickly and allows you to easily see what Word is doing during the sorting.

Another approach that doesn't require messing around with tables is to simply sort the text by words. You can do that by following these steps:

  1. Make sure the names in your document are arranged so there is only one person per paragraph.
  2. Select all the paragraphs containing names.
  3. Choose the Sort option from the Table menu. Word displays the Sort Text dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Sort Text dialog box.

  5. Click on Options. Word displays the Sort Options dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  6. Figure 2. The Sort Options dialog box.

  7. Select the Other option.
  8. Erase whatever is in the box to the right of Other, replacing it with a single space. (You are telling Word that you want to consider spaces as the dividing point between sort fields.)
  9. Click on OK to close the Sort Options dialog box.
  10. Use the Sort By drop-down lists to specify the word by which you want to sort. For instance, if you want to sort by last name (the word after the first space), you should choose Word 2 in the Sort By drop-down list.
  11. Click on OK to sort your names.

You should note that this approach only works properly depending on the construction of the names in your list. If there is only a first and last name for each person, then the sorting works fine. It will also work fine if there is a first, middle, and last name for each person—the only difference is that you would select Word 3 in step 8. Problems creep in, however, if there are two names for some people and three for others. In those instances, even the convert-to-table approach first mentioned will not work properly. In that case you must do something to make sure that Word treats first and middle names as if they are a single word; for instance, by separating them with a non-breaking space.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1563) 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: Alphabetizing By Last Name.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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