Table styles and multiple-row table headers

This post might present you with something small, to which you say: “I can’t believe he didn’t know that,” or it may just show you something so deceptively simple that you end up saying “I can’t believe I’ve missed that all these years—it’s so obvious, but simultaneously so counter-intuitive.” So this post won’t be “up there” on the Wow-factor scale, but it may just simplify one little aspect of working with tables for you, I hope.

As readers of my book will know, I am a (cautious) fan of Word’s table styles. Cautious, because while they can drastically ease and speed up the process of creating multiple uniformly formatted tables, they take some getting used to, and you can just as easily do something wrong and “blow up” your tables if you don’t know what you’re doing.

One of the nice things about table styles is that you can set formatting for the table as a whole, and then for each specific constituent part of the table (Figure 1). You can specify individual (and thus differing) formatting for:

  • Whole table
  • Header row
  • Total row
  • First column
  • Last column
  • Odd banded rows
  • Even banded rows
  • Odd banded columns
  • Even banded columns
  • Top left cell
  • Top right cell
  • Bottom left cell
  • Bottom right cell

Figure 1    Choosing which portion of the table formatting is specified for

This feature makes table styles very flexible: Note the group of Table Style Options on the far left of the Table Tools: Design ribbon (Figure 2). These setting, as it were, turn the differentiations you specified in the process of defining the various elements of your table style, on and off. Thus, if you specified a bold header row, then the text in the header row will only be bold if the Header Row check box in this group is selected. If not, then the text in the header row will appear as defined for the whole table.

Figure 2    Table style options

Probably the most-used of these various constituent parts is the Header Row (and probably then First Column after that). It stands to reason that the Header row formatting applies to the first (i.e., top) row of the table. However, here we have a dilemma. What if you have specified a certain header row formatting, but some of your tables have headers that span two (or three) rows?

Once you see it, it is obvious, but it’s one of those things that is so obvious that we (myself included) often overlook them. You should know that the Repeat Header Rows function (Figure 3) can be used for multiple rows. This setting is used if you have long tables that span more than a single page, as it allows the header row(s) of the table to be repeated on each successive page.

Figure 3    Repeat Header Rows

The interesting thing (and this is not necessarily intuitive, and has not, to my knowledge, been documented by Microsoft), is that turning this setting on with multiple rows selected, even when your table does not span multiple pages, will instruct Word to treat all selected rows as header rows, and Word will then apply the header row formatting to all of those rows. Et violà!


Yes, there’s a catch. This works fine for settings like font settings, shading, even repeating header rows. But it doesn’t work for borders. So if you want, for example, only a bottom border and have that set on your header row formatting, then when you do this with multiple rows, each row will have the bottom border, not only the lowest one as you might have hoped. That will require a manual fix, unfortunately.