Word 2004: How to add shading (colour) to a table cell

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
January 13th, 2005 • 3:03 am

This is another one of those brain-dead interface schemes in Microsoft Word. I had this document authored by someone else that contained a table in which one of the cells had a yellow background, presumably in order to make it stand out.

So I went about doing the same to my table in my own translated document, which I had created from scratch myself.

My first thought, since this was a table-related thing, was to look under the “Table” menu. There are tons of commands in there, but, incredibly, here is only one that relates to manual table formatting. It’s the one called “Table Properties…” (!) and it opens a multiple-tab dialog box with table properties for the table as a whole, for table rows, for table columns, and for individual table cells.

It’s obviously a very cumbersome approach, because when you want to change the properties for a single cell, row or column, you still have to go through a dialog box for the whole table. Microsoft were obviously aware of this, since they included “Next Row“/”Previous Row” and “Next Column“/”Previous Column” buttons in the “Row” and “Column” tabs respectively. These buttons let you change the portion of the table that the changes will apply to without leaving the dialog box.

It’s a pretty tedious approach. It’s quite obvious to me that this is a feature that cries for a palette-based approach rather than a dialog box. You can actually use the Formatting Palette or Word’s toolbars instead of this dialog box — but that gives you access to a different set of features each time, so it’s pretty hard to remember what is where. The bottom-line is that all the functionality related to table formatting should be provided through a palette-based approach.

As well, the fact that some of the table properties options are included in the Formatting Palette does not help clear out the confusion. Are these properties or formatting options? Microsoft is obviously confused, and so are we.

Now, what about table cell colouring? Is that a table property or a table formatting option? And where is it located? Well, guess what? It’s not under anything related to tables in the Word interface. It is actually found… under the “Format” menu, in the “Borders and Shading” dialog box (or in the Formatting Palette, under “Borders and Shading“).

Why isn’t it under the “Table” menu? Obviously because you can apply borders and shading to things other than table cells. But still… there really is no harm in a little of interface redundancy, you know. There is no reason why the same functionality should not be accessible through two different paths. It is, after all, part of the very essence of a modern graphic interface to be redundant.

This particular example is a perfect illustration of how confused and confusing the Word interface really is. If you don’t know where something is, the obvious path is not always the right one. For table formatting, for example, don’t look under the “Table” menu — unless you want to specify text alignment or unless you want to use Word’s “Table AutoFormat” command, that is!

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