Simple tables on Mac

After our entry on figures someone asked for tips on dealing with tables. I write academic articles and my needs are pretty basic, so I have a simple workflow for tables. Design shack has a great entry on designing nice tables for information other than scientific data.

I always start a table in Pages since it’s so much easier to use keyboard shortcuts to add columns (⌥ → or ⌥ ←) and rows (⌥ ↑or ⌥↓). Pages also just make tables look better so it’s nice to use it at the beginning. After I have the basic layout I transfer the table to a Word document and I merge cells where necessary and play with exact font sizes and alignment.

I try to save as much of the specific formatting, cell merging and row ordering for Word even though it’s sometimes more tedious. Pages is particular about the cell width or height when next to non-merged cells and this particularity is often is carried to Word when transfered over. If you are working in Pages and can’t get the cell width or height right first try splitting the cells themselves as well as surrounding cells and then recombining until you can get the dimensions right.

I have “Merge cells” set up with as a universal keyboard shortcut (⇧⌘M) to make editing smoother. I also find Pages pretty tricky for changing the order of columns or rows so I save that type of editing for Word. Editing borders in Word is tedious but functional; while it’s easier in Pages I find that sometimes this information gets messed up on transfer.

The final step of editing tables is ensuring that they run smoothly across pages in your document. In both Word and Pages there is a command to force the first row(s) to automatically appear at the top of the next page if the table continues there. Another useful command to control how a table appears on consecutive pages is “Allow row to split across pages” (only available in Word under Table Properties). Here is how these two commands can improve the appearance of your document:

A table with vertical lines, where headings don’t repeat and rows are allowed to split between pages

Microsoft Word-3-1-1-1

The same table properly formatted with the Headings Rows Repeat command, no vertical lines and no split rows

Microsoft Word

Finally, two notes about table design. First, most tables don’t need vertical lines (as illustrated by two screenshots above). Second, it’s easiest to use a narrow font for tables. I used to use Arial Narrow which works well but is ugly. I recently discovered Avenir Next Condensed (used in the table above). It’s a clean and really nice font which works well in tables because it’s compact.

About Jessica Jewell

Jessica Jewell is an Associate Professor at Chalmers University of Technology and a Professor at University of Bergen where she researches the feasibility of climate action (
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6 Responses to Simple tables on Mac

  1. Pingback: Microsoft Word: 5 misuses and 7 alternatives | Academic workflows on Mac

  2. Pingback: Collaboration in academic writing: software and beyond | Academic workflows on Mac

  3. Csaba Pusztai says:

    I agree, no vertical lines needed in most cases. Omitting vertical lines helps maintain the natural flow of the horizontal reading (unless somebody really wants the reader to go vertical). As for narrow fonts, I think that may be detrimental to legibility, so I would rather redesign the layout of the table just to avoid having to use a narrow font. Tables need plenty of white space.


  4. Aleh Cherp says:

    Good point about white space, Csaba!


  5. Csaba Pusztai says:

    How about switching to landscape orientation? That would give you plenty of column width.


  6. Pingback: When Microsoft Word is best for the job | Academic workflows on Mac

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