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4.3: Tab Stops

  • Page ID
    46469
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    Learning Objectives

    • Set tab stops.

    You may recall from Alignment, Justification, and Indentation that hitting the Tab key indents a paragraph. Each hit of the Tab key inserted a tab space. By default, a tab space stretches to fit the next 1/2 inch interval on the page. Tab stops control the width of a tab space so that it can be greater or less than 1/2 an inch.

    By changing the width of tab spaces, you can align text with tab stops rather than the edge of a column, page, or margin. This can be useful for aligning text different ways in the same line.

    The top half of a Microsoft Word document is displayed with text. The point of this image is to show there are no tab stops.
    Without tab stops
    The top half of a Microsoft Word document is displayed with text. The point of this image is to show there are tab stops.
    With tab stops

    There are several kinds of tab stops, but the ones we will focus on in this course are the left tab, the center tab, and the right tab.

    A black L shaped figure representing left tab.
    Left tab
    An upside down T shaped figure representing center tab.
    Center tab
    A backwards black L shaped figure representing right tab.
    Right tab
    Aligns text left along the tab stop line Aligns text centrally to the tab stop line Aligns text right along the tab stop line
    4 lines of text with left tab on. 4 lines of text with center tab on. 4 lines of text with right tab on.

    There are two main methods for setting tab stops: the ruler and the tab dialog box.

    Tab Stops Using the Ruler

    First, make the ruler visible (if it isn’t visible already). Go to View>Show and check the Ruler box.

    A green arrow is pointing towards the show button on the view tab of the ribbon. In the dropdown menu of show a green box has been displayed highlighting the ruler tool.
    After selecting the ruler from the view tab you are now able to control how the page is laid out. Two green boxes surround the vertical adjust and the horizontal adjust options. The rulers display the width of the page in inches. The shaded-in gray spaces on the ruler represent the margins. This screenshot shows margins of one inch.

    The rulers display the width of the page in inches. The shaded-in gray spaces on the ruler represent the margins. This screenshot shows margins of one inch.

    To add a tab stop, select the paragraph or paragraphs the tab stop will be added to. Select the type of tab stop by clicking the tab selector icon in the top-left corner until it shows the appropriate icon (A black L shaped figure representing left tab., An upside down T shaped figure representing center tab., A backwards black L shaped figure representing right tab.). The tab selector button is located at the top of the vertical ruler and to the left of the horizontal ruler.

    A green arrow pointing towards the left tab option on the ribbon.
    Right now the Left Tab is selected. Clicking the icon will switch to a different Tab type.

    (Note: there are more tab options, such as decimal tab, bar tab, first-line indent, and hanging indent. Feel free to experiment with these later.)

    Once the type of tab stop you want is selected, click anywhere along the horizontal ruler to place the tab stop.

    A word document with text on it. A green arrow is pointing to the direction of where the right tab option is in the ribbon menu.

    The tab stop is represented by the icon in the ruler. In the screenshot above, the right tab is marked with a green circle. Notice that the lines below are right-aligned with the tab stop, with the exception of the last line. The last line is not aligned because the line is too long for the text to fit with the right-align.

    To move the tab stop, click and drag the tab icon along the ruler.

    A word document with text on it. A green oval is pointing to where the right tab option is in the ribbon menu. A black arrow is also shown displaying the adjustment of the right tab, moving from left to right.

    The selected paragraphs moved with the tab stop. (And notice that the last line is aligned now that there is enough space for the text.)

    To remove a tab stop, click the icon and drag it off of the ruler.

    Tab Stops Using the Tab Dialog Box

    You can also add and move tab stops using the tab dialog box. To reach it, go to the Paragraph dialog box in the Home tab.

    The ribbon menu is zoomed in on in a Microsoft Word document. It is on the home tab and there is a green arrow pointing to the tab dialog box which is highlighted by a green box.

    Then click the Tabs button at the bottom-left corner of the Paragraph dialog box.

    A paragraph dialog box has been opened with a large green arrow pointing to a green box which is highlighting the tabs option.

    You have now reached the Tab dialog box.

    A tab dialog box with features on how to adjust tabs.

    Choose which type of tab stop you want in the Alignment area (Left, Center, Right, Decimal, or Bar). Type the distance of the tab stop in inches, then click Set or OK to apply that tab stop to whichever lines are selected.

    A tab dialog box is open with several options selected. The "Tab Stop Position" is 5.8 the "Default Tab Stops" is at 0.5". The alignment is to the right and the leader is 1. A Microsoft Word document is open with text on it. The text has been highlighted in gray to show what updating the tab does.

    Use Clear to remove tab stops. You can also still click and drag the tab stop along the ruler to change its location or drag the tab stop off the ruler to delete it.

    Leader

    The leader is a filler for the tab space. Instead of leaving the tab space blank, you can fill it with periods or other characters. This is particularly useful for a table of contents, but it can have other applications too. To choose a leader, select one of the options under the Leader section of the Tab dialog box.

    A tab dialog box is open with several options selected. The "Tab Stop Position" is 5.8" the "Default Tab Stops" is at 0.5". The alignment is to the right and the leader is 2. A Microsoft Word document is open with text on it. The text has been highlighted in gray to show what updating the leader does.

    Optional: Bar and Decimal Tabs

    Two of the other tab stop types are the bar and decimal tabs.

    The bar tab icon is a straight vertical line (|). Bar tabs do not align text. Instead, a bar tab adds a straight vertical line at the point of the bar tab. The line will be the length of the selected lines.

    A Microsoft Word document is open with text on it. The text has been highlighted in gray to show what updating the center tab does. The center tab has also been highlighted by a green oval along the ribbon menu.

    The decimal tab icon is An upside down T shaped figure with a black square on the right side, representing decimal tab.. Decimal tabs align text based on the placement of periods (or rather, decimal points). This is useful when lining up numbers, especially dollar amounts.

    Side-by-Side Comparison of Decimal Tab Alignment
    A document has been opened with 6 lines of text on it. The center tab feature has been surrounded by a green oval. A document has been opened with 6 lines of text on it. The center tab feature has been surrounded by a green oval and directly down from that oval is an orange line that goes through the text to the bottom of the page, showing what the center tab feature does.

    Notice that when a decimal tab is applied, the decimal points will line up regardless of what is on either side of the decimal point.

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