Formatting elements: Borders (About)

If you use only one kind of formatting on a table, make it the borders. The borders are the lines around the cell . Like the borders around a comic strip, lines around a table give it visual definition, and separate it from any other text that might surround it. Lines inside can also help guide the eye, and even give meaning. You see a kind of “ghost” border when you’re looking at a spreadsheet, but I call it a ghost because if you print it, those borders disappear.

Before getting into how to set borders in various programs I’m first going to take a little while to discuss what you can, can’t, and might be able to do with borders in spreadsheets, as well as what you should, and shouldn’t do.

What you can do with borders in a spreadsheet.

  • You can place lines above, below, to the right and/or to the left of a cell.
  • You can do the same for an entire group of cells, with the addition of being able to add horizontal and vertical lines between all the cells in the group.

What you might be able to do with borders in a spreadsheet.

  • You might be able to change the style of a line, between options like solid, doubled, dashed, dotted, etc.
  • You might be able to change the thickness of a line.
  • You might be able to change the color of a line.
  • You might be able to place lines diagonally through the cell.
  • You might be able to add drop shadows on one or two sides of the cell.
  • You might be able to declare a minimum distance between the text and the borders.

What you can’t do with borders in a spreadsheet.

  • You can’t have one border on the bottom of one cell, and a different one on the top of the cell below it.
  • You can’t increase the thickness of a border indefinitely.
  • You can’t place vertical or horizontal lines through the middle of a cell.

What you should do with borders in a spreadsheet.

  • You should use borders to define and delineate elements of the table, such as the entire table, headers, totals, subgroups, and/or significant elements.
  • You should use borders to make it easy to follow the information in your table.
  • You should use consistent borders around elements of the same type. Otherwise people will see the change in the border, and think something about the data is different.

What you shouldn’t do with borders in a spreadsheet.

  • You shouldn’t use the same borders around every side of every cell in the table.
  • You shouldn’t extend the borders past the edge of the table.