My short cuts – using Tabs effectively (2)

19 Jan

As you will have read in my original post, I’m writing up quick guides to short cuts for formatting your Word documents, to replace workarounds you might use.

I want to show you how to do things in a more formal way which will  make things easier for you in the long run, particularly when you’re dealing with long and complex documents.

Today we’re going to follow up on my previous post on Tabs. Now we know how to use the tab button, we’re going to go a step further and set tabs using the ruler at the top of the screen. Exciting, eh? It’s called “setting tab stops” – the “stops” idea coming from when you added physical barriers to your typewriter. I actually learned to type on an elecronic typewriter, back in the olden days, by the way …

First of all, we need to check we can actually see the rulers at the top and side of the page.  Can you see a ruler at the top? If not, click on the view tab at the top of the page. See where it says ruler? Click on the box next to that so a tick appears:

Once you’ve ticked the box, the two rulers should appear, like this:

And we’re all ready to go. So, say we’ve got a little table of bird prices we want to lay out:

We can use the tab key to space across, but another way is to use the tab stops in the margin. Note that we need to highlight the text we want to apply tab stops to, or set up the tab stops before we type anything. Now, move the mouse pointer up to the top margin and click, just once, with the left mouse button, on the 1.5, 6 and 13 on the ruler. Just where the arrows are on the picture below. You’ll see a little L appear where you click. That’s L for left tab. Well, actually it shows which way the tab is facing, but we’ll come on to that later.

Now, when we type our text, using the tab key (remember, the one with 2 arrows on) will take us across to each of these tab positions that we have set up ourselves, rather than just going across by a set amount. The grey lines show how the text lines up with the tab stops we marked in the top ruler area.

All well and good, but the prices don’t line up very neatly, do they. We can get around this, and mess around with the tab positions by highlighting the text we want to affect (remember to do this! And for this stage we want to highlight all the text so we move the column heading and the prices) and double clicking on any of the Ls we placed in the ruler. This brings up the tab dialogue box. Note: although you can click on any tab marker to bring this up, it automatically moves to working on the leftmost tab setting first, not the one you clicked on. So you can see one tab stop highlighted, and the other ones listed underneath. You can see that there are options to Clear or Set tabs. Set will set a new one at whatever position you want: if you add a third one between 6 and 13, all your text in the third column will jump across to match that. Clear will delete the tab position you have highlighted in the top box.

In order to line up those prices, we need to make the third tab a Right-handed one. This means the tab marker is at the right margin or, effectively, the end of the text you want to affect. So, click on the 13 in the box to bring that up as the active tab, click on the Right alignment radio button (circle).

This will make the right hand side of the column line up: lovely tidy figures and heading! Look at the tab stop at 13. It’s now a backwards L, showing that it’s keeping everything tidy to the right, not the left.

But I think the bird names want to move over a bit. Simply highlight the text, bring up the dialogue box, highlight 6 and Clear, and click Set and add a tab stop at 3.5.

Now I fancy having a line of dots going from the name to the price. A bit odd in a list of bird prices, guaranteed, but if you want to do a quick table or a contents page (although I’ll be teaching you the proper way to do that automatically in a few weeks’ time) it works nicely and looks great. Highlight just the part that you want the dots to appear in and then double click on any of the tab stops. This time, select the 13 and choose the leader you require:

And there you go: lovely leaders between each bird name and its price. That looks tidier than scrappy columns made up of spaces and dots, now, doesn’t it!

Find my first introduction to tabs and using them to make your text nice and tidy and easy to navigate here.

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 19, 2012 in Copyediting, Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word, Writing


Tags: , , , ,

3 responses to “My short cuts – using Tabs effectively (2)

  1. Aurora

    November 16, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Hi, I’m Aurora and this is great. In my work I seldom use the tabs but its good to know how to set them. What about macros? thanks


    • Liz Dexter

      November 18, 2015 at 7:24 am

      I’m glad you found this useful. I haven’t covered Macros yet, but watch this space …



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