Oh, no! My translation just won’t fit into that table! More super squeezing for translators.

What translator hasn’t had the exasperating experience of trying to squeeze text into a table that was created for a completely different language? Narrow columns for words that are now too long and wide columns for words that are now very short. Trying to make a translated table look normal can be a nightmare!

Look at the problems in this simple table:

If you’re a translator, you will have seen it all before – long numbers break and run over to the next line, or the final few letters of a word wrap unexpectedly. The original author may have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that his data fits neatly into the table. She may even have edited the accompanying text to ensure that the table fits nicely into the page design. You’re stuck with a basic localization problem… text which doesn’t fit the design.

For tables, dropping the point size is the most usual quick fix…

…but even here, while a drop from 11 pt to 8 pt type prevents words and numbers breaking, the table still isn’t completely consistent (although it might often pass as “good enough”).

So, what options are there when a more elegant presentation is important?

As discussed in a previous post, dropping the point size sometime works OK – but it can also be a rather blunt instrument with less than desirable results. Here are some alternative tricks which  often do a better job. The examples are in Word 2007.

Trick 1 – Try Word’s AutoFit function first.

With your cursor somewhere inside the table, right-click and select AutoFit|AutoFit to Contents. It doesn’t always work, and sometimes even makes the situation worse! If the table falls apart, then just click the Undo button and move on to the next trick.

I often find that Word’s AutoFit function is reasonably smart and often sorts out at least some of the problems.

Trick 2 – Adjust the internal margins of the cells

There’s more room inside cells of a table that you might think! Table cells have their own top, bottom, right and left margins. The tiniest adjustment to the left and/or right margins of a cell can be enough to prevent words or numbers breaking at unexpected places and wrapping to the next line:

But how can you get at this extra space inside table cells for your translation?

I guess the guys at Microsoft didn’t think you would want to adjust the internal margins of cells very often, so they buried this function quite deeply. Here’s how to find it:

Step 1: Select the table (or a portion of it), right-click, then select Table Properties;

Step 2: The Table Properties dialog box appears. Select the Cell tab, and click the Options button down at the bottom of the dialog box:

Step 3: The Cell Options dialog box will pop up. Uncheck the Same as the whole table option (this allows you to make changes to the settings which are grayed out here).

Step 4: Adjust the left and right margins.
You need to make the left and right margin narrower. You’ll often have to experiment to see what works. In my example, I reduced the table’s cell margin settings from 0.19 to 0.05 cm, (leaving rather narrow margins), but this freed up a lot of extra space in each cell. You don’t want to make the margins so narrow that the text is touching the borders.

This was the result I got from adjusting the cell margins to 0.05 cm:

It didn’t solve all the problems, but with some space freed up along the right and left margins the new text has a better chance of fitting in.

Trick 3 – Use Character Spacing to slightly squeeze up the text within the cell

You can select the whole table, (or you can just select any individual words and numbers which don’t fit) and use Word’s Character Spacing function to squeeze up the text (Font|Character Spacing tab|Condensed). (See previous post on squeezing a whole document.)

In my demo table, I condensed all the text by 0.3 cm (a virtually undetectable amount of squeezing).

For any remaining problem areas, such as the odd letter which still rolls over to the next line, you can select that one word, and use Character Spacing to squeeze it a fraction more.

Shortcut: Once you have condensed one piece of text using Character Spacing, you can condense any other problem areas in the table by hitting Ctrl Y (a shortcut which repeats the last thing you did) rather than going through all the menus and changing the settings each time.

Here’s my final result:

(Careful inspection will show that I individually condensed each of the long psi numbers and the word “Threads” a bit more.)

Manually adjusting column widths or dropping the point size are still valid tricks, of course – but in this case we got the table looking reasonably OK without doing either!


[1] Data for the table was adapted from http://www.engineershandbook.com/Tables/torque.htm

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5 Responses to Oh, no! My translation just won’t fit into that table! More super squeezing for translators.

  1. Martin says:

    I could have done with the info on setting cell margins a month or so ago when I spent hours trying to tidy up page after page of tables with exactly this type of problem – most of it was done by grabbing the margin hook thingies in the ruler bar using the mouse and dragging them a tiny distance. Very time-consuming and frustrating!

    Another one for my mental notebook for future reference – thanks once again.

  2. Pingback: Archives – 04.04.11 | Metaglossia

  3. Thanks for the tips. I have had real nightmare a few times trying to make the tables look good in Spanish (which you may know, it tends to be about 25% longer than English…). I have to confess that I knew most of the tips, but I see now that, applying them in this same order, might make the whole “extra job” (because they won’t pay us for this) to be much easier.

  4. Alejandro says:

    I agree with Curri, the order is important here and the one proposed makes a lot of sense. Good post!

  5. Pingback: Easy! Easy! How to copy a table from a PDF into Word… for beginners #xl8 #t9n | The translation business

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