Excel 2004 and Word 2004: Inconsistent behaviour when pasting table cells

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
November 22nd, 2004 • 1:51 am

I frequently take stuff from an Excel spreadsheet and insert it into a Word document. I don’t use Office’s specialized tools for this, simply because I don’t trust Microsoft software. I just select a range of cells in Excel, copy it to the Clipboard (command-C), switch to my Word document, and paste the contents of the Clipboard.

In such an operation, a range of cells in Excel becomes a table in Word, which is expected. The text formatting and the table cell formatting is all screwed up, but that, unfortunately, is to be expected with Microsoft as well. I usually select the entire table I’ve just inserted and remove all its text formatting by applying my default paragraph and character styles to it with two keyboard shortcuts.

After I’ve done that, typically the table is wider than what I want, because what looks like a fairly small table in Excel becomes a huge thing in Word. Don’t ask me why. All I know is that, after I’ve inserted the table and removed the text formatting, I select the entire type and use the Table > AutoFit > AutoFit to Window command. That makes it more manageable.

So, as you can see from this description, I have a number of fairly effective strategies to work around Office’s user-hostile behaviours. Unfortunately, there are things that you simply cannot work around, no matter how much you customize your Word environment. Here’s one problem that got in my way this morning.

I had a table in a Word document that I had created using the procedure outlined above, i.e. by copying a range of cells from Excel, pasting it, and reformatting it. Then I went back to Excel and selected another range of cells with the exact same number of columns and copied it. I went back to my Word document, place my blinking cursor at the beginning of the text in the very first table cell in the top-left of the table, and pressed command-V.

Normally, in Word, when you have a range of cells in the Clipboard that has X columns, and you place the cursor at the beginning of the text in the very first cell in an existing table with the same X number of columns, if you paste the contents of the Clipboard, Word replaces the existing cells with the new cells, preserving your overall table format in the process.

So I expected the same thing to happen when I pasted my range of cells from Excel into an existing Word table with the same number of columns. Tough luck. Instead of replacing the existing cells with the new cells, Word actually… inserted the range of cells from the Clipboard as a table within the table, i.e. as a complete table located inside the first table cell of my existing table!


I double-checked and, sure enough, if I pasted the range of cells from Excel somewhere else in the Word document first and then copied and pasted it back in the existing table after having placed the cursor at the beginning of the text in the first table, this time Word did replace the contents of the existing table cells with the new cells, as expected.

In other words, even though a range of cells in the Clipboard is a range of cells in the Clipboard, Word doesn’t behave in the same way depending on whether that range of cells comes from another Word table or from an Excel document.

And of course the only way around this is what I have just described, i.e. you have to first paste the range of cells from Excel somewhere else in the Word document, and then copy it from there and paste it into the existing table to get the expected behaviour.

I don’t call that a work-around, though. I call that a royal pain in the neck. Because of course, since I am so used to copying and pasting ranges of cells between Word documents, I always forget that, when the range of cells is coming from Excel, the behaviour is not the same. And I get caught off-guard every time.


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