Using Tab Stops In Word

Today, I would like to share a really cool trick that you can use in Word. A lot of people are familiar with using the buttons that position paragraphs to the center or to the right. It isn’t rocket science. You click in the paragraph you want to center, then click the center button (or CTRL + E if you like keyboard shortcuts), and there you have it. The real trick comes when you would like some of your text left aligned on one side of the page, but then you want other text right aligned on the other side of the page. Here is a perfect example. Let’s say Mona has a flower shop, and she would like to make a brochure that shows her goods on the left side of the page, but she would like the prices to be on the right side of the page. Not only that, but she would also like the decimal points to line up nice and neat. Let me show you a little-used feature that can help her accomplish this task.

The first thing that we need to do is to make sure that the rulers are visible in the Word document. In Word 2010, click the “View” tab, and then select the ┬ácheckbox ┬áthat says “Ruler”. See the picture below to see it highlighted.


You should now see the rulers on the top and left sides of the page. Hit the “Tab” key on your keyboard. Notice where the cursor lines up in relation to the top ruler. By default, it should normally line up in half inch increments. This is called a tab stop. However, you can affect the behavior of the tab stop and that is exactly what we’re going to do to get Mona’s flower shop brochure all fixed up.

If you look to the far left side of the screen, just above the left side ruler, you will see the button pictured below. This is the tab stop button.

Tab Stop Button

By default, it will have an “L” shape. This denotes a “Left” aligned tab stop. If you click this button you will notice that there are several tab stops from which to choose. Clicking the button doesn’t insert a tab stop, but, rather, sets it to the type of stop which you want to add when you’re ready to add the stop. To add a tab stop, choose the type that you want, then click with your mouse on the ruler at the top of the screen, and your new stop will be added. Let’s say, for example, that you choose a left aligned tab stop. If you click on the 1 inch mark on the top ruler, a little “L” symbol will be added to the ruler. Now, you have changed all the rules for the “Tab” key on your keyboard. Now, when you hit “Tab”, instead of the half inch increment, it will jump to the new stop you inserted. Also, any text that you type at that stop will be left aligned. If you hit “Tab” again, it will revert back to its default stops unless you add another tab stop to the ruler.

If you click on the tab stop button a couple of times, you should get a backwards “L” shape which denotes a right aligned tab. Once you have the right tab stop, click the 5 inch mark on the top ruler to add your stop. See the picture below for an example.

Right Tab Stop

Now that you have added this tab stop to the ruler, when you hit the “Tab” key that cursor will move to the 5 inch mark. Also, when you type, the text will be right aligned. Look at the example below.

Right Aligned

Here, you will notice a couple things. Notice that the item names in the left column are left aligned, but the prices in the right column are right aligned. I’ve added a black line to add emphasis to how the numbers line up under the right tab stop. Another really nice thing about this setup is that the decimals all line up neatly. You may ask, “Why didn’t you just type the item and then hit the right align button on the toolbar and type the price?” Well, if you hit the buttons on the toolbar the entire paragraph aligns right, not the particular piece you are typing. Tab stops allow you to align a portion of the paragraph a certain way. You may also want to know how to get rid of a tab stop. All you have to do is click the tab stop on the ruler and drag it off. This will make it go away.

I hope you find this tip useful. It is one of those seldom used, but very handy, little tricks that Word has included. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to respond. I appreciate hearing back from our readers.

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Darrin Jenkins

Darrin is an IT manager for a large electrical contractor in Louisville KY. He is married and has 3 kids. He loves helping people with their technology needs. He runs a blog called Say Geek!