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Word tables made with spaces - Cleanup!

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Nice table. Huge mess.

Maybe this was something you created way back before you figured out tabs or a document you received from someone else. Either way, using the spacebar to separate the columns resulted in a mess. Trying to convert text to table results in hundreds of columns or hundreds of rows (depending on the separator you choose). The fastest way to clean this up? Search and destroy.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, click the Show/Hide ¶ to see all those lovely spaces: Word Table made with spacebar

1. Tabs

Begin by setting up tabs. If you can’t see the ruler and tab button…
a.      Word 2007/2010 – Click the View Tab and check the Ruler checkbox in the Show Group.
b.      Word 2003 – On the View Menu, select Ruler.

2.

At the left edge of the window, above the Vertical Ruler, you’ll see a button, probably showing what looks like a capital L. It’s actually the Left Tab button. Clicking this button repeatedly will toggle it to Centered, Right, Decimal, and Line tabs. In Word 2007/2010, it also toggles to set the indents. For now, we’re just going to use the Left Tab.

3.

Select all the text in your messy table. BTW, if you move into the left margin area of your page, your mouse becomes an arrow that points NorthEast, toward 1:00 on a clockface, you get the idea. Click and drag straight down to select all the text to the right of the mouse arrow.

4.

Click on the Ruler to set your tabs, roughly using the columns of text to guide you. Setting tabs like this removes all the default tabs to the left of your set tab so you won’t have to tab-tab-tab to move to the next column.Now we’re ready to search and destroy spaces. Leave the table selected. We don’t want to replace all the spaces in your document, only the ones in this table.

1. Find

In the Find/Replace dialog box, we’re going to search for two spaces. So in the Find field, tap the spacebar twice.

2. Replace

In the Replace field, tap the spacebar once. (We could replace the two spaces with nothing and delete them altogether, but without counting spaces, we could end up with zero spaces and nothing to find to replace with tabs, so trust me on this.)

3.

Click Replace All. A dialog box will pop up telling you Word has made a gazillion replacements and ask if you want to search the remainder of the document. JUST SAY NO. This is a controlled burn.

4.

Click Replace All again. Remember to click NO when asked if you want to search the rest of the document. Repeat this process UNTIL you see two spaces (those dots!) between your columns. Don’t do that last replacement because you don’t want to get to the point that you’re replacing a single space with a tab (especially if there are spaces within the column text).

5. Insert Tabs

Now, in the Replace field, click anywhere in that big white field area and tap the BACKSPACE to delete the space that was there. Type ^t (this is the formatting information for a tab).

6.

Click Replace All.You might have a little bit of tweaking to do, but now you have a nicely formatted tabbed table. If you want to convert it to a true Word table, leave the text selected…

Word 2007/2010: Go to the Insert Tab. Click the Arrow beneath the Tables button. Choose the Convert Text to Table command. If you deselected your table, this option won’t be visible.

Word 2003: Go to the Tables Menu. Select Convert…

Look at "More Articles From NerdyWoman" (below) or Stay tuned! I’ve got more tricks to share with you!
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6 Comments
 
LVL 21

Expert Comment

by:Eric Fletcher
Your Find & Replace steps 1-4 will end up reducing some instances of multiple spaces down to just a single space, so you will not reliably be able to create the tabs between columns.

For example, after 3 iterations of space-space to space: five spaces become 3, then 2 then 1; eight spaces become 4, then 2, then 1; but 11 spaces becomes 6, then 3, then 2.

However, if you change 2 spaces to something unique -- say þ (entered as Alt-0254) -- then you can reduce those to a single one (i.e. changing þþ to þ). Before changing þ to ^t, eliminate any leading or trailing spaces by changing " þ" to "þ" and "þ " to "þ" (no quotes). With this method, you don't need to visually check for the double-spaces per your step 4.

Another alternative would be to copy the table to Excel, then use the Data | Data Tools | Text to Columns function. In the step-through dialog it presents, choose "Fixed width" to let Excel detect the likely columns. Subsequent options let you manage formatting. When complete, you could then just copy the results back into Word from Excel.
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LVL 11

Author Comment

by:Colleen Kayter
TY, Eric for the feedback. Having used Word since 5.0 for DOS and having used this quick method on many, many, many tables created by other people, I'm on fairly solid ground here.

As I said in Step 3: "Repeat this process UNTIL you see two spaces (those dots!) between your columns. Don’t do that last replacement because you don’t want to get to the point that you’re replacing a single space with a tab (especially if there are spaces within the column text)."

As for copying the table to Excel, that's over-engineering the project, isn't it?
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LVL 21

Expert Comment

by:Eric Fletcher
Like you, I've been using Word for ages too (in fact, I still have a diskette hand-labelled v0.9) and have used procedures like this for years. However, I'm uneasy about procedures that involve a visual check because it is too easy to miss things--and particularly so for barely visible characters like spaces.

The attached screen shot shows why I maintain that you cannot reliably know whether the "space-space to space" replaces will reduce to just two spaces.

Reducing spaces in a table using F&RAs for using Excel, yes, it is perhaps over-engineering! On the other hand, many users have both products, and if one has a very large table to convert, Excel may be a more expedient solution.
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LVL 11

Author Comment

by:Colleen Kayter
ooookay. Next time, you write an article. I just know this works.

As for Excel...while most users have both products, people who use Word extensively don't necessarily feel as comfortable with Excel.
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LVL 21

Expert Comment

by:Eric Fletcher
Uh, well did you try repeating my sample? Your procedure doesn't work for the reasons I've identified.

I think most EE readers find the full threads of article quite useful, so I added my comment because I could see a potential flaw. I intended it only as a constructive critique. Your procedure will work for some tables, but not all -- and if it failed for an EE reader of your article, my comment might help them figure out why.

I take your point about some users not being comfortable with Excel. However, it is a valid alternative method that could be more appropriate for users with extensive tables and a knowledge of Excel. I don't think mentioning it takes away from your article at all.
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LVL 11

Author Comment

by:Colleen Kayter
Actually, Eric, I've used your method for replacing hard line endings. There's another article written by me using that. Came in very handy when converting 20 offices from WerdPurfekt to Word.
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