Formatting elements: Column Width and Row Height (How to part 1)

Last week I talked about why you might want to change the column width or the row height, and this week I’m going to talk about the mechanics of how to actually do that.

First, there are a two methods: headers, and menu. Each of the approaches can size things according to a size you specify, or automatically detect the largest entry in a group of cells, and size to it. Most programs allow you to resize multiple columns or rows at the same time, either with headers or menus. Only menus, however, will let you automatically resize multiple columns to the widest one in a set of cells, rather than the widest one in the entire column.

One warning about resizing multiple columns at once: if you have hidden columns in the range that you re-size, they will re-appear. To avoid making them re-appear, select multiple columns or cells by holding down the ctrl key and clicking on what you want, rather than by by holding down the mouse button & dragging across everything you want.

Another note is that if you try to automatically re-size a column where all the cells you select have been formatted so the text wraps, it won’t change. Basically it can’t figure out how wide the column should be to fit the text, if the text can just wrap to a new line if the column is too narrow. However, if only some of the text is formatted to wrap, then the column will resize itself to the widest un-wrapped text. This limitation is not true of rows — if the current column widths mean that the cell with the longest content needs to be row needs to be twice as high, then if you try to automatically resize the height of the row it’ll adjust to exactly that.

Using headers is the easiest and most intuitive method of changing the height or width, but it’s a little tricky to explain and there’s a lot of little details that can change how it behaves. So this week I’m going to talk about that, and next week I’ll cover how to do it through the menus.

Fortunately the mechanic for changing width or height using the headers is pretty much the same for all programs. To change columns you go to the column headers and hover your cursor to the right of the column you want to change, on the line between that column and the one next to it. If you’re in the right place something should change — usually the cursor changes something with small arrows pointing right and left from it. Adjusting row height using the row headers is done similarly, except that you hover over the line below the row you want to change.

To specify a change just click and hold, then drag to the right or to the left for columns, or up/down for rows. You will NOT be shrinking the neighboring row/column, even if it looks like it while you’re dragging. You can safely expand a column past the entire width of its neighbor if you want.

To have it automatically fit itself to the widest entry in the column just double-click instead of click/hold/dragging. It’s worth noting, though, that if your widest entry in the column happens to be wider than your screen (don’t laugh, it happens) you will not be able to fix it using the headers. This is because the right side of the column will be off the screen, so you can’t hover between it and the column next to it. Even if you move to the column to its right you still won’t be able to adjust it using the headers, because you’d have to drag it into the row headers, which it won’t allow.

You can also adjust multiple columns at the same time using headers, except in Google Docs/Google Drive, and there’s two types of results you can get. To get either result you need to start by selecting the whole column for all of the columns you want to re-seize. Then, if you double-click to resize them, they’ll each adjust to fit the largest cell in their own column. Alternatively, if you click and drag to resize one of them then they’ll all adjust to exactly the same size.