Preventing Overlapping Tables

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 20, 2016)

27

Donna has a document that has three tables in it. When she views it, the document appears fine. When she sends it to someone else the tables move and overlap each other. She wonders how to prevent this from happening.

Welcome to the wonderful world of table positioning in Word! When you insert a table using the ribbon tools, the vertical anchor is set to "paragraph," by default. The table will then move up and down as that particular paragraph mark moves with editing. If successive tables are anchored to successive paragraph marks, then the tables will all move together and cannot overlap.

If you subsequently drag a table up or down using the mouse, then the anchor changes to the nearest paragraph mark plus an offset and the wrapping changes from the default of "none" to "wrap around." Often this change of wrap radically changes the layout of the page and you have to change the table back to "no wrap" to resolve the chaos.

It sounds as if one of Donna's tables is anchored to the page (or margin) and another is anchored to a paragraph. The tables have probably, at some stage, been dragged up or down and perhaps blank lines have been added to position them on the page. This works just fine for your system. However, when you send the document to a different person, then all heck breaks loose. The other person's copy of Word has different settings from yours for font sizes and line spacing. Therefore, paragraph anchors are at different positions on the page whereas the page-anchored table is in a fixed position. Thus you can easily see overlap of the tables and other strange behavior.

The solution is to set paragraph anchors and no text wrapping for all tables and then make sure that the table anchors are successive paragraphs. Assuming that the tables are to be displayed underneath one another the steps are:

  1. Right click in the first table and select Table Properties from the Context menu. Word displays the Table Properties dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Table tab is displayed. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Table tab of the Table Properties dialog box.

  4. In the Text Wrapping section choose Around.
  5. Click the Positioning button. (This button is only available after you perform step 3.) Word displays the Table Positioning dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  6. Figure 2. The Table Positioning dialog box.

  7. Make sure the Move with Text check box is selected.
  8. Set the Vertical Position to 0 Relative to Paragraph.
  9. Click OK to close the Table Positioning dialog box.
  10. In the Text Wrapping section choose None.
  11. Click OK to close the Table Properties dialog box.

These steps adjust the positioning for only a single table, so you'll need to repeat the steps for the other two tables, as well. You'll probably find that the tables are now out of position, so use the mouse to drag them to their desired position. This will change the anchor to the nearest paragraph mark, plus add an offset. In addition, dragging changes the wrapping from "none" to "around," so you'll need to again display the Table Properties dialog box for the positioned tables and click on None.

After you perform these steps, the tables should be vertically one right after the other, and should remain that way if you send the document to someone else.

If your tables were horizontally next to each other, though, then that is an entirely different story. In that case the easiest solution is probably to insert each table into its own text box and then position the text boxes next to each other. You can format the positioning on the text boxes so they don't move with text and are positioned relative to the margins of the page rather than to paragraphs. (Also make sure you format the text boxes so they have no borders.) This should give you the result you want when you share the document with others.

Of course, if you continue to run into problems you might just want to generate a PDF from your Word document. You can then share the PDF with others, and it will look just like it did on your system. (This obviously won't work if you need those other people to make changes to your document. It is great, though, if all they need to do is view it.)

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (12576) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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Comments

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What is 2 + 1?

2017-10-25 18:01:45

ASF

This is so helpful—but a comment from @Maryland, USA may just have saved my skin.

At the top of each section, I have a narrow table in the right margin containing links to sub-sections. When I printed, some of these little tables ingested the text that followed! I really thought I was losing it!

Now I see that the tables, formatted to "keep with next" so the one cell didn't get split to two pages, was "keeping with next" to a fault. Great observation!!!!! (I just turned it off for the last link and voila!)

PS: I used a table rather than a text box because links in text boxes don't automatically update.


2017-02-06 23:12:22

Susan

Thank you!


2017-01-11 10:45:51

Bill

This worked amazingly. Thank you


2016-12-24 07:49:52

pat

Thanks!! for the tip... worked like a charm.
Overlapping has been troubling since quite some time.


2016-12-05 22:08:41

Felicity Bedford

Great tip - worked really well for something that has been bothering me for years and easy to follow! Thanks a lot!


2016-11-29 15:01:04

Daniel Rold

WHY HAS THIS NOT BEEN TAKEN CARE OF BY MICROSOFT AFTER THE LAST 15 YEARS!!!!!!!!!!??????????


THIS IS PATHETIC THAT WE HAVE TO SEARCH ONLINE TO FIGURE OUT SIMPLE BASIC FUNCTIONS THAT SHOULD WORK!!!!!!!!!!!!


2016-11-23 23:58:30

Leo

Thanks, it worked!


2016-11-07 17:45:29

Julie Aquavia

Thanks for this tip. The weird thing is that I only started having this problem in the last 2 months or so.


2016-02-11 07:52:18

Darren

Many thanks for this, it worked a charm. The strange thing was that the document displayed normally when viewed on 5 networked computers but overlapped on the sixth computer. Anyone have a clue why?


2016-01-06 20:02:24

Moses

Thanks a lot, this article really help me to position tables and align them properly using MS Word 2013.


2016-01-01 20:28:42

Jane

Thank you so much!!!!! This was so helpful☺☻


2015-11-16 09:36:14

James

Thank you, whenever I printed off the cover sheet the boxes kept overlapping but it didn't appear on the screen. Very frustrating. Fixed now, many thanks.


2015-10-07 04:14:58

Rohn MVP

NOTE: the “Positioning…” button is enabled only when the Text wrapping “Around” option is selected

Anyone know what the "allow overlap" option does. I can't seem to see any difference when it is turned on or off


2015-06-16 09:07:26

Maryland, USA

Peter, It's not a bad idea to join consecutive tables, provided that each is simply "more of the same." For many of us, each table requires a unique caption, unique column settings, and one or more unique repeating header rows.


2015-06-15 18:54:44

Peter Buxton

This may be a bit simplistic, but if I have two or three consecutive tables in a Word document, I normally convert the spaces in between to empty table rows to make one combined table, which is not going to overlap.


2015-06-12 12:08:18

Gaurav

Excellent. Thanks for the Info.


2015-06-12 09:20:31

Maryland, USA

This column ranks as one of Allen's top ten. Allen has always shown the instincts of a great technical writer, and science writer, for explaining difficult concepts. In explaining how to prevent tables from overlapping, he applies these skills to a problem that has dogged some of the savviest Wordsmiths. For the first time, I understand why tables that are safely segregated on my PC might overlap on my neighbor's.

I would add one tip: If, after you've heeded Allen's advice, tables continue to overlap, check the settings of your table rows and the paragraph markers within them. Make sure each body row is allowed to break and that no paragraph is set to "keep with next."


2015-06-11 07:24:42

Mwesh

You're a saint...thank you!


2015-05-01 05:57:07

Jamie

THANK YOU YOU ARE A LIFESAVER I WAS GETTING ABSOLUTELY FURIOUS AND FRUSTRATED ALREADY--ALMOST THREW MY LAPTOP ACROSS THE ROOM.


2015-03-12 05:15:57

rabs

thanks it woorked


2014-07-17 12:04:48

April

Thank you very much, I've been making logbooks for my job and one of them was being absolutely terrible.


2014-06-24 12:40:34

Sarah

Oh my gosh! I've been screaming at my laptop for a week. Thanks so much for this tip. Everything is perfect now. :-)


2014-05-27 03:07:29

Calin

Thank's a lot, it worked really great for me


2014-05-08 03:54:16

Calvin

This did not work for the document I am working on.


2014-02-10 16:20:14

Ricardo Joao

You are great... Thank you very much for this tip, it saved me a lot of time and effort. Thank you!!!!


2013-04-01 09:05:08

Jennifer Thomas

Using continuous section breaks before and after tables, then anchoring the tables to those breaks (using the techniques described above), is a quick way to keep tables in context; they are less likely than paragraph marks to be moved by another user.


2013-03-30 11:34:42

Rich

OUTSTANDING!!

That's a very important tip in my opinion. It certainly explains a lot when it came to my 'early days' using Word.

I did finally figure out that if I used the "Text Box First" trick, things went far better.

Frankly, I would use the text box approach rather than the much more time consuming method that you outline first.

That said, I also just copied that method's instructions because there may be a time where the 'Text Box' trick won't do.

When I finish a job, (technical writing- user manuals), I need to convert it to PDF anyway but there's also a chance that my employer may want to juggle or add something of his own. If so, I now can be confident that he'll see what I see.

I have recently upgraded to MS Office Pro 2010 and have found a lot of very useful additions or 'expansions' in the 'New' Word. (Though the default 'skin is bland. They do offer 2 other color choices but...)

But I also have to do some 'hot, quick' jobs and resorted to the 2010 Publisher. I must say that I'm actually using it more and more because I can change the Style, margins, etc from page to page.

Unfortunately, Publisher is not a complete processor like Word and in fact, can't even be converted to a Word Doc if you want to include anymore than Text, (no Pics allowed).

But then, it wasn't intended to be a Word Processor. However, it converts to PDF very nicely. I sometimes will make a particular table or non-typical object in Word and then C&P to Publisher, i.e. I needed to turn a list of names to a table and alphabetize them as well. Publisher doesn't do either.

I also noticed that if I try to open a Word Doc containing an image with Publisher, things can really get screwed up, but that's another matter.

Thanks for that Tip! I don't get here nearly as often as I'd like. I really need to schedule an hour or two per week dedicated to reading the information you offer.


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