Word 2013/2016: Tabs

Updated 2013.06.13


·       To learn how to use both tab characters and tab-stop settings to position text.


Always use tabs to align text. Never use spaces! Working with tabs is easier if you set your tab stops before entering text. Then, when aligning text in columns, only press the tab key once to move to the next column.

Types of tab stops

A tab stop is a position on the ruler where you can align text. Unlike typewriters, which had only one type of tab stop (a tab stop that would left-align text below it), computers have many types of tab stops. Each tab stop can be used to align the text below it in a different way. Word's tab stops are described below.

Tab Stop Name




Description: Description: Left Tab icon

The Left tab stop is similar to the typewriter tab. If you press the tab key before a left tab stop, the cursor will advance to the tab position and text will begin below the tab stop (the left edge of all text below that tab stop will be aligned).


Description: Description: Right Tab icon

If you press the tab key before a right tab stop, the cursor will advance to the tab position and text will end below the tab stop (the right edge of all text below that tab stop will be aligned)


Description: Description: Center Tab icon

If you press the tab key before a center tab stop, the cursor will advance to the tab position and the text will be centered below the tab stop. Note that the text will not be centered between margins, but will be centered around the tab stop.


Description: Description: Decimal icon

The Decimal tab is used to line up numbers and text with a period. If you press the tab character before a decimal tab stop, the cursor will advance to the tab position and text that you type will be right-aligned below the tab stop until you hit the period (decimal point) key. The period will be aligned directly below the tab stop. All text that you type after the period will be left-aligned below the tab stop.

The following demonstrates:

·       a LEFT TAB at the .5" mark

·       a CENTER TAB at the 3" mark

·       a RIGHT TAB at the 5.5" mark

Notice the tab settings on the ruler, the tab characters in the text, and the alignment of the text below the tab stops


The following demonstrates a DECIMAL TAB at the 2" mark. Note that (1) the tab character has been pressed (the arrow), and (2) the decimal points are aligned below the tab stop (at the 2" mark).


Setting tab stops

The ruler must be visible. If it is not currently visible:

·       Click on the View tab.

·       Then in the Show/Hide group, click on the Ruler check box.


To set a tab stop, cycle through the available tabs on the left side of the ruler:


The ruler above has a left tab stop selected. When you have the desired type of tab stop visible, click on the location on the ruler where you want the tab stop to be located. The following example has set a left tab stop at the 1.5" mark, a center tab at the 2.0" mark, and a right tab at the 2.5" mark:


Removing tab stops

To remove a tab stop, simply click on it and drag it off of the ruler and let go. That's it!


A "leader" is a character that fills in the gap between the point on the line where you press the tab key and the tab stop. Dot leaders are often used in tables of contents and in the cast of characters for a play or movie. Leader characters in Word can be a dot, hyphen, or underscore. To set a leader, click on the Home tab. Then in the Paragraph section, click on the “dialog box expander” (that little arrow in the lower right corner):


The Paragraph dialog box will appear.

·       On the Indents and Spacing tab, click on the Tabs button.


The Tabs dialog box (below) will appear. Select the tab stop you want to have a leader character. In the example below, the cursor is on a line with a left tab stop at 1" and a right tab stop at 5" when the Tabs dialog box is invoked. Select the 5" tab in the list of tab stops on the left side. then click on the dot leader radio button and click on the Close button. The text will look like this:


You can also choose hyphens (first line below) or underscores (second line below)