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Creating Columns in Your
Word Processing Program

A reader called to say she tried using her word processor to create a list of names and addresses in two columns, but that she was having trouble keeping the data lined up properly from one column to the next.

Well, the problem is that if you click on Format and then choose Columns>Number of Columns, you're choosing a procedure that is intended for an entirely different purpose. Let's take a look.

If you've ever read a lengthy document that was printed in the traditional "edge-to-edge-of-the-paper" style, you know how tiring it can be on the eyes. Well, dividing the text into multiple columns can make it much easier to read.

If you already have a lengthy document, you can highlight it with Ctrl+A (Select ALL) and go to Format>Columns, where you'll find options for choosing the number of columns and the amount of space between them.

With programs like MSWord you can even mouse-select portions of text and make the column attributes vary from one part of a document to another. This means you can have, say, four paragraphs displayed in two columns, the next two paragraphs in three columns, and the rest of the document in one column.

However, these columns will appear on your monitor properly only if you've chosen View>Print Layout. View>Normal will give you a single column view, although the print-out will be in whatever column format you've selected.

Different Column Options for Different Purposes

Getting back to the reader's question about putting names and addresses in two matching columns, the answer is to use your word processor's "Table" options. If you go to Table>Insert Table, you would choose (in this case) two Columns and the approximate number of Rows needed to accommodate the intended list. (Additional rows can always be inserted later.)

With this layout, the names would be typed in the left column cells and addresses would be typed in the corresponding right column cells. If the names needed to be divided by First and Last, a three column table could be used.

If other elements of the data need to be separated (such as City, State, and Zip Code) the number of columns would be set up accordingly. The top row of a Word Table can list these designations, and all the data could later be sorted by, say, Last Name, or by Zip Code, or however one wants. Just be sure to check the marker indicating your "Table has a Header Row."

Word Processor "Table" vs "Spreadsheet"

Yes, all of the above can also be done with a spreadsheet program — but one of the advantages of using one's word processor is that data too wide to fit into a cell will automatically word-wrap to additional lines, with other cells in the row expanding accordingly to keep everything lined up.

More information on creating columns can be found here:
Columns in Word Processing Documents
and here:
    Lining Up Numbers in Columns

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