Centering a table within the L/R page margins in Word

June 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm

This post was inspired by a problem encountered by one of the legal secretaries at the Los Angeles law firm where I’m providing floor support for Office 2010 and Windows 7. She had created a table that spanned several pages. It was wider than her preferred L/R margins (she wanted to apply page margins of 1″ all around), and she was having difficulty getting the table to fit even after applying 1″ margins via the Page Layout tab, Margins.

To get more information, I clicked within the table, then clicked the context-sensitive Table Tools Layout tab and clicked “Properties.” (Alternatively, I could have right-clicked anywhere within the table, then clicked “Table Properties.”) When the Table Properties dialog appeared, I noticed that the table was left-aligned — which, for some reason, is the default table alignment in Word. Also, there was a check in the “Preferred width” box, and the width was set to 7.5 inches. Moreover, “Indent from left” (which really means “Indent from the left margin”) was set at minus 0.55 inches. As a result, the table was sticking out into the left margin by more than half an inch.

Of course, it’s possible to drag the table margins, but with left-aligned tables, dragging one margin typically alters all of margins. Often, that produces unexpected (and unwanted) outcomes.

After experimenting with a few different methods, we managed to get the table centered between a 1″ margin on the left and a 1″ margin on the right. Here’s what we did:

1. Selected the table;[1]
2. Launched the Page Setup dialog;[2]
3. Set the left margin to 1″ and set the right margin to 1″;
4. Clicked the “Apply to:” drop-down and chose “Selected Text”; and
5. Clicked “OK.”

Although we achieved our desired results by using that method, it might not work in all circumstances. The reason is that the Table Properties settings appear to override the Page Setup settings. That is, it doesn’t matter how you configure the left and right margins if you have set a “Preferred width” in the Table Properties that extends beyond those margins.

What seems to work best is to choose center alignment rather than left alignment — a very important first step![3] — then set a “Preferred width” based on the margin settings you want. If you would like 1″ margins on both the left and the right, set the table width at 6.5″ (assuming standard paper that is 8.5″ wide, minus 1″ on the left and another 1″ on the right).[4] Then click “OK.”

If the table still isn’t situated the way you want, reopen the Table Properties dialog and double-check all the settings. In particular, make sure the alignment is set to “Center,” since “Left” can be quirky (remember that when the table is left-aligned, any “Indent from left” setting — whether 0″, a positive number, or a negative number — will position the table relative to the left margin).
[1] There are several different ways to select the table. You can (1) left-click the four-headed arrow that appears at the upper left-hand corner of the table when you move the mouse there, (2) click the Table Tools Layout tab, then click the Select drop-down at the left side of the Ribbon and click Table, or (3) right-click within the table, glide the mouse over “Select,” and then click “Table.”

[2] An easy way to launch the Page Setup dialog is to go to the Page Layout tab, navigate to the Page Setup group, and click the dialog launcher (the gray arrow) at the lower right side of that group.

[3] I can’t overstate the importance of changing the alignment of the table from left to center. Doing so will help tremendously.

[4] Be sure that “Measure in” is set to Inches rather than percent.

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