Word 2004: How to deal with corrupted tables that cause spurious automatic page breaks

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
September 13th, 2005 • 2:31 pm

I frequently have to work with files sent to me that are WordPerfect word processing files containing tables. I usually convert them with MacLinkPlus Deluxe and then open them in Word 2004.

I usually do not attempt to work on the actual converted WordPerfect file. Instead, I create a new document with my own style sheet, formatting options, etc. — and then just copy and paste from the converted WordPerfect document as I go along, removing the text formatting if necessary.

Sometimes, the item that I copy from the converted WordPerfect document is a table. If I paste it in my Word document without its formatting, I lose too much. So I paste the actual table and try to clean it up after pasting.

In this process, I sometimes encounter a weird problem: When calculating the pagination for the document, Word starts inserting all kinds of spurious automatic page breaks within the table itself. If I switch to Word’s Page Layout view mode, I see that my table rows are spread over multiple pages, each with a single row on it, and sometimes the same row is repeated multiple times over multiple pages. It’s not pretty!

And it appears that nothing can be done to prevent Word from doing so. Even if you apply the “Keep with next” paragraph formatting option to the table rows, Word still puts the automatic page breaks between table rows.

Yesterday, I encountered the problem yet again, and tried to do a little bit of exploratory work to identify the possible cause. After fiddling with various table formatting options to no avail, I ended up trying to convert the table to text (using the eponymous command in the “Table” menu).

Much to my surprise, the table was indeed converted to plain text items separated by tabs and returns — but I also discovered, interspersed within the converted table contents, a couple of manual section breaks!

Needless to say, these section breaks were not put there by me. And they were in fact invisible when viewing the table copied from the converted WordPerfect document. But they appeared after I converted the table to plain text.

So I decided to cancel the conversion and return to my corrupted table. I switched the setting to show invisible characters in Word, and there was no sign of anything problematic in the contents of the table cells themselves. The manual section breaks were definitely nowhere to be seen. But the automatic page breaks inserted by Word were definitely there!

I selected the table and decided to try and apply a Find/Replace command to the selection. I instructed word to search for manual section breaks (^b) and replace them with… nothing. I clicked on “Replace All” and sure enough, the operation did find several occurrences of section breaks, and successfully replaced them with nothing.

And after that — guess what? The automatic page breaks between table rows disappeared!

I obviously cannot be sure that this approach will cure problems with corrupted tables copied from converted WordPerfect documents in all cases, but it’s certainly a trick that’s worth trying. I also do not know whether these invisible section breaks are added by MacLinkPlus Deluxe during the conversion of the WordPerfect files. So I don’t really know whether the culprit here is WordPerfect, MacLinkPlus Deluxe or Microsoft Word.

What is for sure, however, is that, unless you convert the corrupted tables to text only, Word is utterly unable to deal with them, and completely fails to show you what’s wrong with them. If there are indeed section breaks within the table cells, then they should be visible in one way or another!

But then, when is the last time you saw a Microsoft piece of software handle document corruption or bad formatting gracefully?

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