1. Technology

What are Indents and Tabs?


Have you ever been working in a Word document and wondered what that hourglass on the Ruler would do? You click on it to see, and all of a sudden the text moves outside the margins? Or do you press the space bar 60 times trying to get text to line up with the line above, but it just never seems to?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you may just have a problem with using indents and tabs. An indent sets the distance between the left and the right margins. It is also used in bullets and numbering to ensure that the text lines up properly. Tabs come into play when you press your Tab key on your keyboard. Pressing the tab key moves the cursor ½ an inch by default; however, you can change the way tabs behave. Both indents and tabs are controlled by paragraph marks, or simply put, by pressing Enter. A new paragraph is started each time you press the Enter key.

All About Indents and Your Ruler

Indents Affecting Text Placement
Photo © Becky Johnson

There are four types of indents: Left indent, Right indent, First Line indent, and Hanging indent. The Left and Right indents control the space between the paragraph and the left or right margin. The First Line Indent is used to indent the first line of a paragraph, similar to how you might use a tab. The Hanging indent controls how the text of a paragraph lines up under the first line. This is usually adjusted when working with bullets or numbering when text does not line up properly.

Indents are displayed on the Ruler. If you your Ruler is not showing at the top of the document, click the Ruler checkbox on the View tab, in the Show section. You can also take a shortcut and click the View Ruler button at the top of your Scroll Bar. To apply your indent, simply select the text and drag the indent marker to the desired location.

You can also apply indents through the Paragraph dialog box on the Home tab. If you are using Word 2007, make sure to read Changing the Page Margins in a Word 2007 Document.

All About Tabs and Your Ruler

Different Types of Tabs in Word
Photo © Becky Johnson

Like indents, tabs are placed on your Ruler and control the placement of text. Microsoft Word has five tab styles: Left, Center, Right, Decimal, and Bar. The Left tab is used like the First Line indent: It moves the first line of the paragraph in to the tab location. The Middle tab centers the entire paragraph on the tab location on the Ruler. The Right tab aligns the text to the right tab location. If your document contains numbers with decimals, the Decimal tab ensures that the numbers line up on the decimal point. You can use the bar tab to place a vertical bar on the tab stop position.

If you prefer to not use the Ruler to set your tabs, you can set them from the Tabs dialog box, which is accessed through the Paragraph dialog box.

Give it a Try!

Hopefully, now that you have seen the Ruler in action, you will be inspired to try a tab or two instead of pressing the spacebar to line up text. You also now know the culprit that makes your text veer outside of the margins! Possessing an understanding of how indents and tabs work opens up an entire new world in formatting Word documents.

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