More and more I hear people complain about Corrupt Tables in Word. I guess I'm missing something? Being a Word forms specialist, I use tables intensely in Word and I have to say that I have never encountered a table becoming corrupt in Word. So I can only imagine that people are doing things with tables in Word that I'm not? Sure, I've seen tables mess up in Word and in my case it's because *I* messed up the table.
Analyzing the Problems
Recently, one of my course students came to me begging for help with a massive log table his company uses at work that "had become corrupt." Intrigued, I asked him to pass me the file so I could see if I could discover what had happened to cause the table to become corrupt.
He explained that many people use this table and add/subtract information from the table. He said the table look fine for the first few pages, but then it becomes corrupt, because all the columns from that point on are totally messed up.
As you can see in the images below (images in which I will be blurring the data to protect their information), that the first few pages are aligned, but then there is a definite madness happening throughout the rest of the document.
Worse, is the fact that he said he'd already spent five hours attempting to realign the columns. He assured me that they definitely had a mind of their own, as they were jumping all over the page and refused to reformat.
I fixed the problems and passed him back his reformatted, well-behaving table in about 20 mins, sans 5 mins to analyze what was going on in his nearly 60 page table document!
As is the case with so many people who scream BUG or CORRUPTION in a Word document, the problem was not Word, it was the user. Word was just doing what the user was telling it to do. Unfortunately, his users didn't know how to tell Word to do things correctly.
The biggest problem he had going on in this table was the fact that the users had no idea how to use styles correctly, yet they plastered various built-in styles throughout the document. However, not liking how the original style looked, they applied direct formatting to the styles to change their appearance...without using Modify, to adjust the styles correctly. (I can bet that those of you who understand styles are cringing right now!)
Here is just a sampling of what happened to some of the Heading styles.
Poor Heading 2, which starts out as something like Arial, 14pt, Bold, Italic had been bent and twisted into various other types of formatting. Plus, since Heading styles default to Keep With Next, rows were being forced to split for reasons they could not understand!
An even more amazing fact was that the majority of the table content was variations of the footer style! And, it, too, had been bent and twisted to the user's wishes.
Not only was this an abuse of how styles should be used, but how the poor Footer style ended up running the show was beyond me. No wonder Word was having a hard time trying to keep all this confusion organized!
The other big factor was that users had copied rows of information from other tables in other documents and simply pasted that information into the new table without realigning those columns as they progressed. So after an incredible 50+ pages of table rows, only a few rows would match and then a whole new column size would format the next few rows...and so on throughout the table.
When my client, the poor system admin charged with fixing this mess, attempted to realign the rows...they could not be properly matched to the rows above without further messing up the rows below. And when he attempted to get the content to fit within the columns, those trashed styles caused further havoc.
Fixing the Problems
I got busy fixing the problem.
The first thing I did was to get rid of all of those obnoxious styles. I selected the entire document with Ctrl + A and hit Ctrl + Spacebar to remove much of the applied formatting and then hit Shift + N to set the contents all to Normal style.
The next step was to separate the large table into smaller tables, thereby allowing me to work with each row issue, separately.
I moved through the document. When I found a row that did not match the alignment of the row above, I'd click in the row with the new formatting and click the icon I have that splits the table. This command can be found at Table > Split Table.
Once each set of like rows were split into their own tables, I could now easily make the needed adjustments without having those adjustments conflict with other attached rows that would not conform to the needed changes.
You see, as with the above image, there are rows that spread the width of the current page. However, the next set of rows are not the width of the page. If I attempted to make the shorter rows wider, by using the AutoFit to Window command, that would cause the attached longer rows to be pushed even further off the page to the right. And attempting to manually realign nearly 60 pages of table rows is just insane!
I now moved through the document again, this time clicking inside each individual table and clicking my AutoFit to Window icon on my custom toolbar. That command is actually located at Table > AutoFit > AutoFit to Window.
Now that each of the individual tables were either pulled in or pushed out to fit to the page, I could start getting the columns equally aligned.
The next step was to move through all the tables, clicking inside each and clicking my Distribute Columns Evenly icon, a command that is located at Table > AutoFit > Distribute Columns Evenly.
Since all the pasted rows did have the same number of columns, this meant that all the individual tables throughout the document now fit to the page and their columns were all aligned. Almost done.
The next step was to move again through the document and delete all the paragraph markers that were inserted when I split the tables, thus causing the lower table to move up and rejoin the above table...again creating one massive table. (To see paragraph markers, you can turn them on via Tools > Options > View or just hit Ctrl + Shift + 8 to toggle your visual markers.)
And now that I had one huge table, with all the cells relating again to the maximum of each individual cell, I could perform the next step...adjusting the content to the cell size. This would cause the cells to evenly adjust to accommodate the maximum size of each column, and doing this evenly throughout the document. To do this I hit Ctrl + A to select the entire content. (Note that since the entire content was the one table, this command could be used. However, if there was other text on the page, I would have just clicked within the table itself and clicked Table > Select > Table so only the table itself would be affected.)
As a final touch, I selected the table and applied my favorite autoformatting style, Grid 8. This gave the table a finished look. I then made sure that the heading was repeated throughout the pages, so the user would not have to continually refer to the top of the document to know what data was contained in each column.
Bingo! The entire 50+ pages of this table were now evenly spaced, consistently formatted and looked quite presentable.
Note! I'm sure some of you are asking yourselves why didn't I just record a macro to handle many of the repetitive moves throughout the document. And in truth, I did! After manually splitting the tables, as needed, I moved to that first table, recorded my moves to AutoFit to Window and Distribute Columns Evenly commands to a hotkey combination and then simply moved down the page, hitting the hotkey along the way to make multiple adjustments as I went. In fact, I could have even written code that would loop through all the tables in the document, setting the formatting as needed. But since I wasn't very familiar with this document, I wanted to move carefully to watch each change so I could ensure things were moving along as I'd hoped. And, for the purposes of a more clearer explanation to new users, I wanted them to understand the entire process without the added confusion of considering macros. But do know that you can save time by recording a macro to handle many of these repetitive moves.
I passed the reformatted document back to the user...who was amazed and thrilled. And I also made him promise to give his users a lesson in using styles to help avoid this type of disaster in the future. He agreed to the need for this type of training in his office and we discussed a potential schedule for me to create custom AVI lessons that he could put on his network so his users could learn what they needed to know at their own pace. A perfect way to train busy staff!
Dian Chapman is a Microsoft MVP since 1995, Technical Consultant, Instructor and certified Microsoft Office Specialist, who can easily provide your company with custom training video files. These files can be added to a main HTML page on your network to allow your staff to simply click and start learning. No need for any type of web server! All you need is a shared network drive to create a faux Intranet to allow your staff to access customized video training, viewable as needed.
You can view some sample video training here: http://www.mousetrax.com/TechCourses.html#samples. (Realize, however, that these lessons are somewhat lower in quality for use via the Internet. In-house, server AVI files would be of highest quality.)
To learn more about document automation or Dian's custom training options, be sure to hit Dian's consulting page...tell her your ideas/needs and request a quote.