How to align columns of numbers in tables

Today’s post is relevant for both scientists and linguists. This tool will make your originals, translations or corrections look amazing—also, more correct.

Have you ever wondered if there’s any criterion on how to display numbers in columns? If you have, do you know the answer? I do and here it is: numbers must be aligned on the decimal (even when it’s not explicit). That is, ones on ones, tens on tens, decimals on decimals…

Ok, it’s not a strict rule, but it makes a lot of sense when there is one only number in each cell, as opposed to intervals. The main reason for that is to better compare the data at first glance because the magnitude of the number is shown by its position. Aligning them on the left, in the centre or on the right might seem nicer [though not to me], but that’s just not practical.

Aligning on the decimal in Microsoft Word is so easy that you’ll do it just for fun. First of all, check your ruler is visible (otherwise tick the Ruler box in the View menu). Where the rulers meet—top left—there’s a square with an icon. Click on it until the upside-down T from Tetris with a dot appears. Be careful; it’s the one with the dot!

It’s been enlarged in the picture. That’s the decimal tab; hover over it to read it. Now, just select the column with the data and click on the top ruler to set the tab wherever you please. The decimal tab icon will show there as in the picture. In order to remove it, just drag that icon out of the ruler.

Decimal tab: the first column is the correct one

Decimal tab: the first column is the correct one

I’ll be waiting for your thank-you cakes. Or a cupcake at least; I’m easy to please.


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