PMG Digital Made for Humans

WRGMG: Table Formatting

3 MINUTE READ | July 6, 2015

WRGMG: Table Formatting

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Preston Smith

Preston Smith has written this article. More details coming soon.

You know what really grinds my gears? Poor table formatting. It can be hard enough to stare at a large table of numbers and try to find what you need, but sometimes it’s more difficult than it should be thanks to poor formatting. In this episode of WRGMG, let’s take a look at some common errors I’ve seen and even made myself that make tables tough to read.

We’ll start off with a real-world table I have seen in a report. The creative names have been changed to protect the identity of the reporter.


1)  Use Consistent Column Widths

When you look at the table, you are immediately drawn to the wider columns. “They’re taking up more space, so they must be important.” Do we really want to put more importance on view through conversions than we do on ROI? Highly doubtful.

Make sure all of your columns in the data part of the table have the same width to avoid putting emphasis on any of them. Don’t be afraid to use abbreviations for “impressions” or “conversions” to help the column headers fit.


2) No Centered Columns

Centered columns can cause problems with reading the data as well as the labels. Let’s look at total conversions first. In the previous picture, it’s hard to see the difference in the magnitude from one row to the next when the numbers are centered. If we just right-align the numbers, it is now much easier to see the difference between 1,059 and 858. As for the creative strategy names, centering them isn’t too bad if they are all roughly the same length. However, when the length varies as it does in our example, it’s tough to read when the words start at different positions in each line. Let’s left-align those so we don’t have to go back and forth to find the start of each new line.


3) Consistent Formatting

You get one formatting for numbers, one for currencies, and one for percentages. That’s it. If you are using commas in clicks, which you should be, you need to use them in total conversions. If you are using the accounting formatting in CPO, media cost shouldn’t be the currency setting in Excel. And of course, fix those ROI units.


4) Too Many Gridlines

While gridlines do help us look at numbers in tables, too many of them can just make us go cross-eyed. Try using every 5th horizontal gridline or so and lightly shading ever other row. You will find that your table is much easier to read.


And there we have it! We’ve taken that messy table and turned it into something much easier on the eyes.  All it took was 4 simple steps. So the next time you are putting a report together, take a couple of extra minutes and clean up the formatting of your table.

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And that, people, is what grinds my gears.

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