How to create a Table with multi-paragraph content & spanned cells using Emacs Org mode

Good Bye! List Tables; Hello! Transcluded Tables

In an earlier post, I talked about how to Create tables with paragraph-like content in Org mode, with the least amount of hassle.

In that post, I recommended using a List Table.

A List Table is essentially a two-level Org list which gets transformed in to a Table.

The problem with the List Tables is that you have to imagine your table as a two-level list and compose them as such.  This mapping of table in to a list is a tedious process.  My own experience suggests that you would spend a fair amount of time indenting and re-indenting your list items.

I recently discovered that you no longer need to use a List Table to create a table with multi-paragraph content. You only need a Transcluded Table.

What is a Trascluded Table

The enhanced OpenDocument exporter describes a transcluded table as below:

When the org-odt-experimental-features has transclude-sole-footnote-references-in-a-table feature enabled, a table cell whose content is a sole footnote reference will be typeset as if it held the associated footnote definition. For simplicity, let us call these "Transcluded Tables".

The definition is a bit cryptic, and this post will strive to unravel Transcluded Tables for you.

For now, it suffices to note that a transcluded table is an Org table and it has extra semantics on how  the body text of a table cell is sourced. In other words, a transcluded table looks like just any other Org table, and unlike with Org tables, the cell contents are as easy to edit as regular text.  While composing your table, you no longer have to narrow your columns or grapple with your table overflowing outside of your display area or wrapping over like a serpentine monster.

Without further ado, let us get started!

Objective: Create a Program Schedule for a Conference

This article will explore how to create how to create a table with multi-paragraph content, and spanned cells using Emacs Org mode.

Specifically, you will be creating the following table.


Figure 1: Conference Schedule created with a Transcluded Table

Note that the above table

  • has multi-paragraph content
  • has cells that span multiple rows and/or columns
  • has columns that are aligned vertically to middle of the cell

Note that none of the above three features are possible with plain vanilla Emacs and Org mode. You need the enhanced ODT exporter, if you need transcluded tables.

Step 1: Pre-requisites

Install the enhanced ODT exporter.

I am using the version ox-odt- See this link for detailed instruction.

Step 2: Enable Transcluded Table

In order to use the Transcluded Table you need to enable it. So, add the following to your user-init-file, and restart Emacs.

(add-to-list 'org-odt-experimental-features

Step 3: Create an Org file with following content

(add-to-list 'org-odt-experimental-features
#+CAPTION: LibreLorem Conference 2022 Program Schedule 
#+ATTR_ODT: :col-cookies "| m4 | m3 | m9 | m9 |"
#+ATTR_ODT: :style "GriddedTable"
#+ATTR_ODT: :span "@1$1{1:2}"
#+ATTR_ODT: :span "@3$1{6:1}"
#+ATTR_ODT: :span "@5$3{2:2}"
#+ATTR_ODT: :span "@7$4{2:1}"
|              |        | *Room 1*                 | *Room 2*                 |
| *Day & Date* | *Time* | [fn:session-and-speaker] | [fn:session-and-speaker] |
| [fn:day1]    |   9:00 | [fn:day1room1slot1]      |                          |
|              |  11:00 | [fn:day1room1slot2]      | [fn:day1room2slot2]      |
|              |  13:00 | [fn:day1lunchbreak]      |                          |
|              |  13:30 |                          |                          |
|              |  14:00 | [fn:day1room1slot3]      | [fn:day1room2slot3and4]  |
|              |  16:00 | [fn:day1room1slot4]      |                          |


#+ATTR_ODT: :style "Text_20_body_20_bold"

#+ATTR_ODT: :p-style "Text_20_body_20_bold"
- Speaker(s)


--- Lunch Break ---


#+ATTR_ODT: :style "Text_20_body_20_bold"
_Day 1_

June 20, 2022


Welcome & Introduction

Information  about Conference & City

Welcome from University Authorities

- Sponsors: Pariatur Officia & Sed Veniam


In occaecat elit, non labore nulla veniam, quis
- Proident Cupidatat


Deserunt amet, nisi ad elit, elit, ipsum ipsum
- In Consectetur


Reprehenderit sit veniam, mollit esse labore et officia excepteur nisi
- Sint Irure


Qui duis dolor mollit dolor tempor quis duis
- Eiusmod Sint


Ipsum ea magna sint id deserunt et fugiat
- Elit Quis


Certificate Workshop
- Minim Exercitation
- Cillum Ipsum

Step 4: Export it to OpenDocument format

You can export the Org file to OpenDocument / LibreOffice format with C-c C-e o O.

If everything goes alright, you will see the get this table.

I am a bit lost; Can you explain what is happening the Org file?

Down below you see an annotated version of the above Org file.

Pay particular attention to

how a table cell is mapped to its content through footnotes
The footnote references in a cell tell the exporter where to source the body text of a table cell.
the :span lines
If you have ever created a HTML table with cells that have rowspans and a colspans, you will be at home here.
the :col-cookies line
The syntax closely mirrors the col cookies that you see in an Org cell. The only novel bit is the m. m corresponds to align cell contents vertically to the middle of the cell. The alternatives to m are t and b.



A Transcluded Table has many advantages over and above a List Table.

  • They look like any other Org Table
  • An Org footnote can contain structurally complex content. This means that you can put even a table within an table cell
  • With :span lines, it is possible to create real-world tables even your income tax ones

A Transcluded Table has its disadvantages:

  • Constructing a transcluded table requires a clear plan
  • Getting the :span lines is effortful;  It requires multiple trials and errors to get the details right.

Before I sign off, here is a challenge for you …

A Challenge to the Reader

Using information in this post,  you can create the following spiral using an Org table.  Would you like to give it a try?


The “art work ” above is stunning, but its guts is un-inspiring

#+ATTR_ODT: :rel-width 40
#+ATTR_ODT: :style "GriddedTable"
#+ATTR_ODT: :span "@1$1{4:1} @1$2{1:4}"
#+ATTR_ODT: :span "@2$2{2:1} @2$3{1:2} @2$5{4:1}"
#+ATTR_ODT: :span "@3$4{2:2}"
#+ATTR_ODT: :span "@4$2{1:2}"
#+ATTR_ODT: :span "@5$1{1:4}"
|   |   |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |
Categories gnu

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