Over the last few years, I have prepared a number of tools to improve the way Word handles tables. Using these tools makes me much more efficient, and removes some impediments to maximizing the benefits of table use.
These tools are written in VBA, Office’s macro development tool. Writing quick one-off macros can save a great deal of time in some situations, and something that a good BA should have some exposure to. Using these Tools and checking out how they work is a good way of getting started.
The tools are free to use and modify. They can be downloaded from the link in the signature block at the end of the post.
Number Table Rows
This tool numbers each row in a table. It is great for requirements listings, tasks lists and dozens of other uses.
It includes all the features a BA might look for, including multiple format options using prefixes and separators (e.g. NF.01, NF.02), and the ability break the table into subsections and having the option for these to have their own numbering sequence. It even allows you to carry the numbering from one table to another.
One of the things I like about this routine is that it begins by removing any blank rows. Cleaning up a table like this can be time consuming.
If you need to, you can lock the numbering once it is finalized. This is might be used when a set of requirements has been published.
Word does have some numbering tools, but these are clunky, and I find them frustrating to use. Being able to maintain a list of many entries, move, add, or delete rows, and then renumber the lot with just a quick keypress is are huge win for a busy BA.
Insert Table Rows
This tool inserts five empty rows at the current location and positions the cursor ready for entry in the first. This is great for capturing lots if information quickly in the right place in the table.
Word does allow you to insert like this but there are a few issues; it takes a few keystrokes and, depending on how you insert, can copy incorrect heading or subheading formats into the new rows.
With one keypress, this tool ensures that standard rows are inserted every time, and that the cursor is setup in the right place to start entry. The Number Table Rows tool can then be used to delete any unused rows.
Table Cell Formatting
This tool cleans up table cells by adding punctuation and removing empty paragraphs at the end of the cell. It operates on selected cells or the current cell if no range is selected.
When I capture information quickly in a table, I find I often forget to punctuate correctly and can leave empty paragraphs and the end of a cell.
Checking and correct all entries when I’m ready to publish a table is time consuming and mechanical, circumstances ideal for an automated routine.
The tool processes each paragraph in the selected cells. It skips paragraphs that already have some form of punctuation at the end, and for those that don’t, adds a “.” character at the end. If the paragraph is at the end of the cell, and it is empty, it gets deleted.
The tool skips the first column and first row even if you selected them. This is to preserve the numbering and headings. The tool is also a good introduction to the complexities of handling end of cell markers in Word table programming.
I use these tools every day, and without them, would find my productivity levels dropping, and my frustration levels rising. A good BA has a bag full of useful tools and these are at the top for me.
My next post will describe Three Great Tools for Bulleted Lists.
About the Author
Martin Coomber is a BA based in Wellington, New Zealand. He is a Certified Business Analyst Professional, tutors IIBA study groups, and mentors other BAs. His Document Productivity website provides document editing tools to the BA community.