Word: Prevent table column from changing width as you type

July 15, 2014 at 9:47 am

Have you ever typed some text in a table cell in Word 2010 or Word 2013, only to have the current column automatically become wider as you type — bumping over any columns to the right? If so, there’s an easy fix. It’s pretty obscure, however, so lately when I teach classes about working with tables in Word, I make sure to include this tip.

In both Word 2010 and Word 2013, when your cursor is within a table you will see a “contextual” Table Tools tab. (Contextual tabs appear depending on the task you’re performing, and they provide commands to help you accomplish that task. So, for instance, when your cursor is in a header or footer, a Header & Footer Tools tab, complete with icons that make it easy to insert / format a page number, to move between different headers / footers, or to change the header or footer margin — how close the header or footer text is to the edge of the page. You’ll see a contextual Picture Tools tab if you insert an image in your doc and click on the image. And so on.) The Table Tools tab consists of two parts: a Design tab, which incorporates commands that affect the appearance of the table, and a Layout tab, which provides commands that mainly have to do with the table structure (adding / deleting rows or columns, merging / splitting cells, and the like).

On the Layout tab, all the way to the left in the Table group, there is a “Properties” icon. Click that icon to open the Table Properties dialog.

When the dialog box appears, make sure you are on the Table tab (tabs are subdivisions, sort of like sub-pages, within dialog boxes as well as within program Ribbons, characterized by labels at the top. Those labels are the tabs). Navigate to the lower right-hand side and click “Options…”

When the Table Options dialog appears, note the command toward the bottom that is labeled, “Automatically resize to fit contents.” To me, this wording is somewhat confusing. It sounds as though it refers to text wrapping, where text you type automatically moves down to the next line when it reaches the right column — that is, the **row height**, not the column width, adjusts to accommodate the text. Most people want text wrapping turned on, so it sounds innocuous enough. In fact, the command means, “Automatically resize COLUMN to fit contents,” something that most people probably do not want.

By default, this command is checked — in other words, it is enabled. Uncheck the box, click OK, and click OK again, and the column margins should snap back to their original settings.

I’m not 100% certain, but I believe you will have to turn this command off in every table you create — even in the same document. Although Word appears to remember the setting within a specific table, in my tests it reverts to “enabled” both in new documents and in a new table in a document where I’ve turned off “Automatically resize to fit contents” in an existing table.

It’s easy to disable once you know where to look for it… but pretty obscure if you don’t.

Hope this post helps!

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