Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Changing Sort Order.

Changing Sort Order

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 24, 2014)

When Word sorts information, it does so according to the underlying codes used to represent characters on the screen. PCs and most other small computers, such as the Macintosh, use the ANSI character set or perhaps the Unicode character set. Regardless of which set is used, each character is assigned a unique numeric value. This assignment is done because computers can only manipulate numbers, not characters.

When sorting, Word is actually sorting information based on the underlying character codes, not on characters themselves. For instance, the ANSI character code for the letter C is 67, and the value for B is 66. By sorting the character codes in ascending order, B will always come before C.

This can lead to some problems when it comes time to sort some types of text. For instance, you may be creating a glossary, index, or bibliography, and you want "Brother, Charles" to come before "Brother Roberts" (in other words, you want the comma ignored during sorting). Unfortunately, you can't do that in Word—sorting is done as already described. While the first seven characters of each term ("Brother") match, the space will always be sorted before the comma. Why? Because the space has a lower numerical character code than does the comma.

The same sort of problem arises when sorting terms that contain abbreviations, such as "St. Charles" and "Saint Jerome." In traditional literary indexes, "St. Charles" would appear before "Saint Jerome." In mechanical indexes (an index sorted by a computer program such as Word is referred to as a mechanical index) the opposite is true because the "t" in "St." comes after the "a" in "Saint".

If someone is bound and determined to develop a list of text sorted in the grand literary style, then the only solution is to do it by hand or to use some work-around process. For instance, you could write all instances of "St. Charles" as "Saint Charles," but format "Saint" in such a way that after sorting you could easily find it (using Word's replace feature) and replace it with "St."

This is obviously a lot of work, particularly if you are dealing with a large amount of text. For this reason, many publishing houses (particularly those that publish technical non-fiction works) find using mechanical indexes quite acceptable. Those who prefer the traditional literary approach, however, are out of luck when it comes to Word.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13116) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Changing Sort Order.

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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Checking for Matching Parentheses

There are lots of little "gottchas" that can make the difference between a finished document and a polished document. One ...

Discover More

Engraving Text

Word allows you to format your text in a number of different ways. One rather esoteric way to format your text is by ...

Discover More

Converting Tables to Charts

Put numeric information in a table and you can then convert that information to a graphical chart using Microsoft Graph ...

Discover More

Learning Made Easy! Quickly teach yourself how to format, publish, and share your content using Word 2013. With Step by Step, you set the pace, building and practicing the skills you need, just when you need them! Check out Microsoft Word 2013 Step by Step today!

More WordTips (ribbon)

Alphabetizing By Last Name

Sorting lists of names by last name is easy if they are listed in a LAST, FIRST order. But what if the names are in FIRST ...

Discover More

Odd Sorting

Word is great at sorting simple information in tables and paragraphs. If you have more complex information (such as ...

Discover More

Changing Paragraph Order

Want a quick way to rearrange entire paragraphs of your document? You can easily do it by using the technique described here.

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 9 - 2?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


This Site

Got a version of Word that uses the ribbon interface (Word 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.