My short cuts – using Tabs effectively

11 Jan

As promised in my original post, I’m going to write some quick guides to things you do when you’re writing documents which you think are a short cut but actually cause more trouble than they’re worth.

The idea of this series isn’t to criticise people, just to show you how to do things in a more formal way which will actually make things easier for you in the long run, particularly when you’re dealing with longer or more complicated documents.

Today we’re going to talk about using Tabs. Tabs seem to be something of a mystery, but there are easy ways to use both the tab button and tabs set in the top margin which will tidy up your document, make it easier to enter neat text in lovely columns, and reduce tension when you’re trying to line everything up.

Please note: these examples can look rather wide. I want them to be as near full-size as possible, so you can see exactly what I’m doing. If you’re looking at this post on a monitor, you should be able to scroll across to see the full image. If you’re viewing on a tablet, some of the screenshot may be cut off: hopefully you can see enough to get an idea of it, or you should be able to select the image to view it separately.

Let’s start off with using the Tab button. This is a button on your keyboard which should have two arrows on it, one facing one way and one the other. Got that? Good.

Here’s your common short cut, to start off with. You’ve got a menu you want to put on a document, with items in one column and prices in another. So you type it out, using the space bar to move along to the next column. And it looks like this:

But now you want to add another item and oh dear – it’s longer than all your other ones and puts it all out of alignment (because you’ve used the space bar to make the space between one column and the next):

How do I know you’ve used the space bar? Because I’ve used that little paragraph button on Word again which shows us all the formatting, tabs, line returns, etc.

So the way you’ve achieved this spacing is by doing this (where dots are spaces and the things like a backward P are returns):

What you should have done (my short cut) instead of using space (your short cut) was to use the tab key (remember, the one with the two arrows) to space across to a set point along the horizontal ruler at the top of the screen. These tabs are represented by arrows when you’re viewing the markup:

Now, when you want to move the prices over for all the shorter items, you just need to insert one press of the tab key at the end of each item, to get them to line up perfectly.

And here’s a last example. It’s very common to find people wanting to indent the first line of a paragraph, but using spaces to do so. This has its own issues – for example, you have to remember how many spaces you’ve put in and it’s likely that you’ll insert a different number each time, which will lead to indentations that don’t match. Instead, a simple press of the tab key at the beginning of your paragraph will leave everything nice and tidy

That’s enough for this session, I think. Of course, there are other ways you can format paragraphs and other indents, and you can set tab stops to wherever you want them to be across the page (and do all sorts of fancy kinds, too). But I’ll leave them for another post … (and I’ll link to them in this one when I publish them).

Please note, these hints work with versions of Microsoft Word currently in use – Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word 2010, all for PC. Mac compatible versions of Word should have similar options. Always save a copy of your document before manipulating it. I bear no responsibility for any pickles you might get yourself into!

Find all the short cuts here


Posted by on January 11, 2012 in Copyediting, Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word, Writing


Tags: , , , ,

8 responses to “My short cuts – using Tabs effectively

  1. marsha4852

    April 9, 2012 at 3:59 am

    Reblogged this on Marsha's Blog About Writing and commented:
    More information about using our word processing programs the way they were designed rather than the way our typewriters used to work.


  2. marsha4852

    April 9, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I’m working on getting a document formatted correctly as a manuscript. I know about the spacing after words and paragraphs. I’ve been fairly successful with using the tab key for indenting up to know, once I was able to change the tab code at the location (if that is the correct term).

    For the past few days when I’ve been moving my paragraphs, the Word program has been doing the indenting properly all by itself. Today, when I’ve used the tab key it wants to indent the whole page, or throw off the way the page is aligned in the section I’m working on. Very annoying.


    • Liz at Libro

      April 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm

      Hi Marsha,

      An easy way to stop this happening (which I’m going to cover in detail in an upcoming blog post) is to go to the Office Button, Word Options at the bottom then Proofing, then Autocorrect Options. Have a look at the rest of the tabs, especially AutoFormat as you type and turn off as much automatic stuff as you can. That should sort it out.


  3. Luci

    July 1, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    I often use tables rather than tabs – tabs can go horribly haywire in long legal documents, particularly when people make changes.


    • Liz at Libro

      July 2, 2012 at 5:35 am

      Oh yes, there’s nothing like a table, and you can always hide the lines although that freaks people out sometimes!



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