Using Table Cell Borders and Shading in WinHelp

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For years, the Microsoft Help Compiler (the one for WinHelp, not HTML Help) has been telling Help authors that we can't use borders or shading or merged cells in the tables we create in our Help topics. But this is actually not true. There is a way.

And you don't have to create your tables in a graphics program either. Instead, taking advantage of Word's ability to embed objects created in another application, you can keep your tables “editable” while formatting them to your heart's content with borders and shading. All of this is accomplished using the features of Microsoft Word, so this technique should work with any Word-based authoring tool. As RoboHelp specialists, we have tested the procedure only with RoboHelp versions 5, 6, 7, 2000, 9, and 2002.

You can create formatted tables using Word or Excel. Use whichever you prefer.

Create a table using an embedded Excel object

You must have Microsoft Excel installed in order to use this procedure.

  1. In your Help document, click on a blank line in the topic where you want to insert the table.
  2. In Word, choose Insert > Object.
  3. On the Create New tab in the Object dialog box, select Microsoft Excel Worksheet, and then click OK.
  4. Word inserts a blank Excel spreadsheet right into your Word document; while you're working in the spreadsheet, Word's menus and commands are replaced by the Excel menus and commands.

  5. Use Excel to create the table as you want it to appear in your Help file. Here's an example of a spreadsheet embedded in a Help topic:
  6. Excel spreadsheet embedded in Help topic

  7. Drag the resize handles (the small black boxes at the edge of the spreadsheet object) on the right and bottom edges of the spreadsheet to hide the empty rows and columns. For example, in the illustration above, you would hide columns E and F and row 10, like so:
  8. Resized spreadsheet in Help topic

  9. Click somewhere in your Word document outside of the spreadsheet. Word closes the spreadsheet object, and Word's menus now replace the Excel menus on the menu bar.
  10. Spreadsheet object in Help topic

  11. Compile your Help system and view the results: a table with shading and borders displayed right in your Help topic.
  12. Compiled Help topic with formatted table

    NOTE To edit the spreadsheet in which you created your table, just double-click the spreadsheet in the Word document. The Excel menus will replace the Word menus, and you can use the features of Excel to edit the spreadsheet as you wish. When finished, click somewhere outside the spreadsheet, and the Word menus will replace the Excel menus so you can continue editing your Help document.

Create a table using an embedded Word object

You can use this procedure if you don't have or don't use Excel or if you prefer the table formatting options offered in Word.

  1. In your Help document, click on a blank line in the topic where you want to insert the table. 
  2. Use the standard Microsoft Word table editing features to create and format the table exactly as you want it to appear in your Help system.
  3. Click somewhere within the table.
  4. Choose Table > Select Table to select the entire table.
  5. Choose Edit > Cut to place the table on the Windows clipboard.
  6. Choose Edit > Paste Special.
  7. In the Paste Special dialog box, choose Microsoft Word Document Object, clear the Float over text checkbox, and then click OK.
  8. Paste Special dialog box

  9. Compile your Help system and view the results: a table with shading and borders displayed right in your Help topic.
  10. NOTE To edit the table later on, just double-click it in the Word document. Word will open the table in a separate document window. When finished, close the Word document containing the table, and the updated table will appear in your Help document.