We use tabs to vertically align text in a document. You may remember the old manual typewriters we used to use before the days of the computer. If so, you might remember that they had metal tab stops that you could pull down to set tabs. Once they were set, to type the text using the tabs, we would tap the TAB key to move to the next tab, then type the text, then tap the TAB key again to move to the next tab, etc. Modern word processors like Word use this same familiar process in the electronic software version of tabs.

Default Tab Stops

If we do not set any tabs in Word, if we tap the TAB key, we'll jump over one half inch. Word has default tab stops every half inch. However, once we set a tab, the default tab stops are no longer active.

There are two steps to using tabs. First, we set the tabs. Then, we key the text, using the tabs.

Set Tab Stops

To set tab stops in Word, we'll use the RULER at the top of the Word screen. To make the RULER visible, we'll click on the check box by RULER in the SHOW group of the VIEW tab on the ribbon.

Click the tab selector at the left end of the ruler (see red arrow above) until it displays the type of tab that you want.

Left Tab - A Left Tab stop sets the start position of text that will then run to the right as you type.

Center Tab - A Center Tab stop sets the position of the middle of the text. The text centers on this position as you type.

Right Tab - A Right Tab stop sets the right end of the text. As you type, the text moves to the left.

Decimal Tab - A Decimal Tab stop aligns numbers around a decimal point. Independent of the number of digits, the decimal point will be in the same position.

Bar Tab - A Bar Tab stop doesn't position text. It inserts a vertical bar at the tab position.

Two more clicks cycles through the first line indent, then the hanging indent, and back to the left tab.

Next, click on the ruler where you want to place the tab stop. If we click in the wrong position, we can drag it over to where it should be. Repeat the process for other tabs. To delete a tab, drag the marker off the ruler.

Now that all the tabs are set, we can key our text using the tabs we created.

Using Tabs

To use the tabs we just set, tap the TAB key to move to the first tab stop, then type the text for the first tab. Next, tap the TAB key to move to the second tab and type the text for second tab. Continue until you're finished with the first line, then tap the ENTER key. Repeat the process for additional lines.

If we click and hold the mouse button down on a tab stop (on ruler bar), Word will display a dotted vertical line to show where the tab is applied down the page. I've spliced together several images (above) to show exactly where these tab stops are located. You'll see them only one at a time, while holding down the mouse button on a tab stop on the ruler.

TIP: Tabs can be frustrating if we change a tab setting with the insertion point at the wrong place in a document. We can set different tabs for different sections of a document. Move the insertion point to the beginning of where we want the new tab stops to be applied, and set the tabs. Once they're set, we'll key the text, using the new tabs, tapping the ENTER key at the end of each line. To set tab stops for a section of text already keyed, select the text before setting the new tab stops.