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When you need horizontal spacing in a paragraph other than a single space using the space bar, you should use Tab Stops (or just “tabs”). Tabs are set per paragraph and multiple tabs can exist in one paragraph. The trick to setting tabs is either to set them up before you need them or to ensure that you select all the text to which you want the tabs to apply before you set or modify the tabs.

Too often, users resort to tables to arrange data, however, tables do not offer the finer arrangments that tab stops provide.

In this post:

  1. Basic Tabs and default Tabs
    1. Center Tab
    2. Right Tab
    3. Decimal Tab
    4. Bar Tab
  2. Leader lines
  3. Tabs in Tables

Basic Tabs and default Tabs

The Golden Rule is: “First make the selection of the lines in which the Tabs exist”.

By default, pressing the Tab key moves the cursor 1.27 cm to the right. The default tab is a left tab.

Custom tabs can be created by clicking on the bottom of the horizontal ruler and adjusted by left-click dragging the tab stops in the horizontal ruler. Left-click dragging the tab stop off the ruler will delete the tab stop.

For finer tab settings, you can double left click an existing tab stop to open the Tabs dialogue window:

The Tab stop’s dialogue window
  1. A left tab stop has been set by clicking at the 4cm mark on the horizontal ruler
  2. Pressing the Tab key will advance the insertion point to the tab stop – in this example at 4cm.
  3. Double-left click on the tab stop in the horizontal ruler to open the Tabs dialogue
  4. The Default tab is a left tab at 1.27cm (this can be modified)
  5. The 4cm tab stop is listed
  6. The default Alignment for tabs is Left
  7. The default Leader line is set to None
  8. If you change any of the tab settings you must click on the Set button…
  9. …before clicking OK

Center Tab

The Center Tab has a similar effect to the Center Align function. Text is centred on the Tab Stop position.

The right-hand side of the text is aligned on the Right Tab Stop.

Right Tab Stop

Decimal Tab

Numbers with decimals representing currency or weight can be lined up by the decimal point in each number.

Text aligned to a left Tab stop in Microsoft Word.Currency aligned to a decimal Tab stop in Microsoft Word.

Bar tab

This tab results in a vertical line at the tab stop position creating a column-like layout. The vertical line appears even if there is no text in the line. [1]

Leader lines

Leader lines can be added to “lead” the eye from the item on the left of the tab across to the text at the tab stop. This is clearly demonstrated in Word’s default Table of Contents.

The solid Leader line may look dashed on the screen.

One of four options can be set for any tab stop:

  • No leader line
  • A dotted leader line
  • A dashed leader line
  • A solid leader line
Dotted Leader line

Tabs in Tables

It is possible to implement Tabs in tables. Note that pressing the TAB key while the cursor is in a table advances the cursor to the next cell, or if the cursor is in the last cell of the table, a new row will be added to the table. To create a Tab Stop in a cell you must use CNTRL + TAB. Remember to select the entire table/row(s)/column(s) in which you wish the tabs to exist before creating the Tab Stop.


  1. https://www.dummies.com/article/technology/software/microsoft-products/word/how-to-use-the-bar-tab-in-word-2016-140400/
  2. Conference agenda credit: https://billetto.co.uk/blog/conference-agenda/

By MisterFoxOnline

CAT Educator

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