Vertically centering text in tables

Subject: Vertically centering text in tables
From: "Rob Young" <rob_p_young -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2000 14:40:52 GMT

I dread reinforcing negative stereotypes of tech writers obsessing over layout issues, but.... What's your response to this request by my boss?

My boss (not a tech writer, though he did play one on TV for a while) would like to change the alignment of text in tables in our documents. He wants to center text vertically, particularly in tables where one column has more text than others (and cells with less text have lots of empty, white space).

As tables are now, rows look roughly like this:

abcde abcde abcde abcde abcde
abcde abcde abcde abcde
abcde abcde abcde abcde
abcde abcde abcde abcde
abcde abcde abcde abcde

My boss would prefer roughly this:

abcde abcde abcde abcde
abcde abcde abcde abcde
abcde abcde abcde abcde abcde
abcde abcde abcde abcde
abcde abcde abcde abcde

His argument is that, with top-aligned text, the text in the left column seems to apply only to the first line of text in the right column, but, if the text in the left column is centered vertically, it more clearly applies to all the text in the right column.

To me, it is just the opposite. Text in the left column should be aligned with the beginning of text it applies to in the right column. Additionally, top alignment of text in tables seems to be the norm. I can't find even one publication with text centered vertically in tables. But my boss is insistent; he really wants this change. He challenged me to persuade him he is wrong by maybe bringing in some books that say you should always top align text. But he also said that even then he might not be persuaded.

I thought maybe Edward Tufte addresses alignment of text in tables in one of his books? But is this battle even worth fighting? My sense is that, at the least, since readers are accustomed to top alignment, they will have to do a double-take if we use a vertical center alignment. I don't want that, but neither do I want to get petty over layout, especially with a boss who's a nice guy and generally agreeable to my recommendations.

Rob
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