Control Page Breaks in Tables

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How do I control where the page breaks will fall in a table that extends over several pages?

The article “Keeping a table together on one page” (which you should read first) describes some of the basic techniques for controlling page breaks in tables. This article addresses problems that arise when a table extends over more than one page. These include the following:

Setting a page break at a specific row

Often you will want to break a table at a specific point regardless of how the rest of the table flows on adjacent pages. This requires more than just the judicious use of the “Keep with next” property as described in “Keeping a table together on one page.” But if you insert a manual page break, you will find that you have split the table: headings will no longer repeat, and you cannot select a column in the entire table since it is now two tables.

Luckily, there is another way to achieve the desired effect. If you apply the “Page break before” property to row you want to be on a new page, you will get a page break without splitting the table. To do this, select the entire row and open the Paragraph dialog. On the Line and Page Breaks tab, check the box for “Page break before.”

Unexpected page breaks

Sometimes a slight change, such as adding a row or adding text to an existing row, will cause a large portion of the table (or even the entire table) to jump to the next page. There are several possible causes of this problem.

  1. First, check that you don't have all the rows in your table set to “Keep with next.” Although this is far and away the most common cause of unwanted page breaks in tables, it can be more difficult to ascertain than you might imagine. If even a single paragraph in any row has this property enabled, it can affect the entire row. If you have merged cells vertically, this complicates the issue. So you need to check every paragraph.

Helpful Tip: To save time and trouble in checking each paragraph, you may want to add a toolbar button for this property. Because this button is a toggle, you can easily tell whether it is turned ON or OFF when you click in a given paragraph. For a discussion of this possibility, see the footnote to “Keeping a table together on one page.”

Another Helpful Tip: Dr. James Coplan found that text pasted from a Web page apparently contained some formatting that caused his table to break to a new page; he realized this when he spotted the black bullet in the margin that signals that one of Word’s text flow controls (“Keep with next” or “Page break before”) had been applied. Pasting as unformatted text avoided this issue.

  1. If that isn’t the cause of the problem, check the Row tab of the Table Properties dialog to see whether your rows are set to “Allow row to break across pages.” If the height of any of the rows is too large, and it’s been set not to break across pages, this can cause the table to split inconveniently.

  2. If the height of a row has been set to an “Exactly” amount, the row will not break even if the “Allow row to break across pages” box is checked.

  3. Check the setting for “Text wrapping” on the Table tab of the Table Properties dialog. If the wrapping is set to “Around,” your table may not be allowed to break across pages (see below). If you set the “Wrapping” to “None”, the problem should go away.

Specific problems with wrapped tables

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to wrap a table by accident; if you drag the “table handle” in the top left corner of a table, even by the tiniest amount, it becomes wrapped, and, what’s worse, there’s no obvious sign that anything has changed—not one of Microsoft’s brightest ideas!

Unless you have a very good reason for wanting to have text wrapping on (such as wanting to position two narrow tables side by side), wrapped tables should be avoided at all costs. One way to avoid nudging a table handle and inadvertently causing the table to become wrapped is to work in Normal (Draft) view; the table handle is not available in that view, so the table cannot be dragged.

There are two specific issues that can arise from (often inadvertent) table wrapping:

  • Tables don’t break. In Word 2000, wrapped tables cannot break across pages (needless to say, this is true of tables in frames in earlier versions). If a long table has inadvertently become wrapped, it will just extend off the bottom of the page. Although the entire table can be seen in Normal view, it will not print.

Important Note: Current versions (Word 2002 and above) all allow wrapped tables to break across pages. If a document was created in an earlier version, you may find that the option “Don’t break wrapped tables across pages” has been enabled to prevent it. This option is set at Tools | Options | Compatibility in Word 2002 and 2003, at Office Button | Word Options | Advanced | Layout Options in Word 2007, and at File | Options | Advanced | Layout Options in Word 2010. The option is not available/accessible in Word 2013 and above.

  • Heading rows don’t repeat. If a table has been split and then rejoined (by deleting the intervening Normal paragraph), it may continue to behave as if still split, with the result that heading rows are not repeated on the next page. A common reason for this is that one or both of the tables have become wrapped. Restoring the wrapping to “None” will usually solve the problem.

Important Note: Another, more subtle cause of the problem of tables failing to join is that rows in the middle of the table (that is, rows that are not at the top) have been tagged as heading rows. This more commonly occurs when you try to join two tables originally created as separate tables.

This article copyright © 2000, 2018, 2023 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.