Formatting elements: Column Width and Row Height (How to part 2)

Last week I talked about all the options for changing column widths and row heights, and explained how to do each one using the headers to manipulate the sizes. This week, as promised, I’m going to cover how to do the same things but through the menus instead. While I don’t normally go this in depth into alternate ways of doing things I think this topic deserves it. Not only is it something I use very frequently, some of the results are easier to achieve one way, and some another. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there were details I was leaving out that could easily be confusing if neglected. So, here we go: how to change column width and row height, part 2.

In most programs you can use menus to do all the manipulations you can do with column and row headers: specifying sizes and resizing automatically, both with single and with multiple columns. However, you can also do more.

One additional thing you can do is getting a column to automatically resize itself to fit a specific cell, rather than the widest cell in the whole column. The same is also true of rows. To do this simply select a cell that’s has text as wide (or tall) as you want the column to be, rather than selecting the whole column. After that you can follow the instructions below for automatic adjustment for your program.

Another thing you can do in Microsoft programs is using menus is set the default width for all columns. If you do this then every column which is still at the default width will change to the new default. It shouldn’t affect columns you’ve already changed the width on. And there’s a reason I’m only mentioning widths when I talk about this — you can’t change the default row height in any program I’ve seen.

A last thing to note is that when you start manipulating widths and heights using menus is that the program will give you the current measurement in numbers, and expect you to enter the new one. This might seem easy, but it can also be confusing. The default width for an Excel column is 8.43. It doesn’t specify units, and it wasn’t until I was writing this post that I finally looked up what that 8.43 measures. It turns out that it’s characters. Logically, then, the default row height might be 1, for 1 character tall, but it’s actually 12.75 in Excel 97, and 15 in Excel 2010. I can’t find anything confirming this, but my best guess is that it’s the height of 1 character in size 12.75 or 15 font. Google, on the other hand, measures both height and width in pixels. OpenOffice uses inches. So in general, don’t worry too much about the numbers. Look at what it starts at, and enter a lower number if you want it smaller, or a higher number if you want it bigger.

Now on to the details of how to find the menus in each program.

In Excel 97:

Cell width measured in: characters

  1. Click on the header for the Format menu (or type alt-o).
  2. In the menu that opens, click on “Column” (or type C) OR click on “Row (or type R).
  3. In the menu that appears, click on the appropriate option for what you want:
    • Change column width manually: Width… (or type W)
    • Change column width automatically: Autofit Selection (or type A)
    • Change default column width: Standard Width… (or type S)
    • Change row height manually: Height… (or type E)
    • Change row height automatically: Autofit (or type A)

In Excel 2010:

Cell width measured in: characters

  1. Go to the Home tab.
  2. Find the Cells group. In my version it’s 2nd from the right.
  3. In the Cells group, click on “Format”.
  4. In the menu that appears, click on the appropriate option for what you want:
    • Change column width manually: Column Width… (or type W)
    • Change column width automatically: Autofit Column Width (or type I) Note: alt-o-c-a, the 97 shortcut, still works in Excel 2010.
    • Change default column width: Default Width… (or type D)
    • Change row height manually: Row Height… (or type H)
    • Change row height automatically: Autofit Row Height (or type A)

In Google Spreadsheet:

Cell width measured in: pixels

  1. Right-click on the header of the column or row you want to change.
  2. In the menu that appears, click on the appropriate option for what you want:
    • Change column width manually: Resize Column…
    • Change column width automatically: n/a
    • Change default column width: n/a
    • Change row height manually: Resize Row… (or type H)
    • Change row height automatically: n/a

In OpenOffice Calc:

Cell width measured in: inches

  1. Click on the header for the Format menu or type alt-o.
  2. In the menu that opens, click on “Column” (or type M) OR click on “Row” (or type R)
  3. In the menu that appears, click on the appropriate option for what you want:
    • Change column width manually: Width… (or type W)
    • Change column width automatically: Optimal Width (or type O). Then select how much white space you want to the non-aligned side of the text, then click OK. Non-aligned means that it’s to the right if the text is left-aligned, left if it’s right-aligned, and split between the right and the left if it’s center-aligned.
    • Change default column width: n/a
    • Change row height manually: Height… (or type H)
    • Change row height automatically: Optimal Height (or type O). Same deal as optimal width, but with top/center/bottom instead of left/center/right.