Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PowerPoint Tip: Formatting text in a table

Recently I wrote about how to format text on slides because text will always be a part of our slides. Today I want to take the topic further and discuss the formatting of text in a table. Tables can be a great way to visually show a comparison between two or more items. In many cases, that table will include text, so we need to format it properly to make it easy for the audience to understand the comparison we are presenting.

There are some aspects of text formatting that work the same in tables as in text boxes. The most important is the ability to use tabs to format text into columns or align the text in a particular way within a table cell. As I talked about before, you can use four different tab types to achieve the text alignment you want. You can also use the text highlighting technique I described to make text stand out.

Another similarity between text boxes and table cells is a feature that was added in PowerPoint 2007. In PowerPoint 2007 and later, you can apply different formatting to the different lines in a text box or table cell. If you highlight a few lines of text, you can add tab stops, change whether the text is bulleted or not, or change the alignment without changing how the rest of the text in that text box or table cell appears. This gives you much greater flexibility in formatting text to get exactly what you are looking for.

While there are those aspects that are the same, there are also two important differences. The first difference you will need to keep in mind is that any tabs you add on the ruler apply only to the cell you are working in at the time. PowerPoint treats each cell as its own text box for the purposes of changes to the ruler. If you want to have the same tab stops on multiple cells, you will have to set them each individually. You can’t highlight a group of cells and add tab stops since the tab option for the ruler disappears when you select multiple cells in a table.

Another difference is in getting the tab stops to work. In a table cell, if you press the Tab key, you will jump to the next cell in the table. This is done to make it easy to navigate the table when entering text. To move to the next tab stop in a cell, hold the Control key down and press the Tab key. Then PowerPoint knows you want to move to the tab stop within the cell, not jump to the next cell. It takes a bit of practice to get used to doing this if you mostly work with tabs in a text box.

Tables are a good way to show a comparison between two or more items on multiple dimensions. You can have a row for each criteria and the audience can easily follow your discussion. Use the tips in this article to format the text in tables so they look exactly as you want them to.


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