It ought to be pretty simple, really. Even though Microsoft Word, by default, sets left tabs every half inch (at least in the U.S. version – elsewhere may vary), sometimes you need something different. Even if only for a particular part of your document. So, how on earth do you set tabs in Microsoft Word?
The starting point: Format Paragraph
Tabs in Microsoft Word are considered part of paragraph formatting, along with indentation, justification, and line spacing. So the first thing you’ll need to do to re-set your tabs is go to the Format Paragraph dialog box. In the ribbon-based versions of Word (2007 and 2010), that’s accomplished by clicking the launcher arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the Paragraph section of the Home tab:
In versions 2003 and earlier, just go to Format, Paragraph. In any version, the Format Paragraph dialog box looks like this:
No matter which tab of this dialog box you’re in, the Tabs function is just one click away. See the button in the bottom left-hand corner? Click it, and you’ll be taken here:
Now the fun begins. This is the Tabs dialog box where you’ll be setting up your tabs.
Left tabs are fairly simple, mainly because they’re the default choice (the radio button next to Left in the Alignment section is selected). Simply type the tab position measurement (in inches, centimeters, or whatever measurement you’re using) into the Tab stop position box, click the Set button, then click OK.
An even easier way to set tabs
But what if I told you there was an even easier way to do this? One that didn’t involve going through the menu system?
You’d be interested in that, right?
If you’re more of a visual person, this method will instantly appeal to you. I’m assuming you’ve got your Ruler visible in Word (if you don’t, go to the View tab and check the box next to Ruler in the Show/Hide section of the ribbon). Click your mouse anywhere along the horizontal Ruler across the top of your document:
I clicked at the 1-1/2″ mark. Notice that L-shaped symbol that appears there? (Feel free to double-click that illustration above to get a bigger version. I’ll wait here, I promise.) That symbol means I’ve just placed a left tab at that point.
If you decide that tab isn’t quite where it needs to be, hey, no prob. Just use your mouse to drag it over in either direction.
And if you want to make it into another kind of tab, it’s easy to do that, too. Double-click on that tab setting to go back to the Tabs dialog box, choose a different radio button (Center, Right, etc.), then click OK.
Now, I ask you: Could that have been any easier?
Well, yes, actually, it can. (This just keeps getting better and better.) Here, let me show you:
(Feel free to hit that full screen button on the bottom right of the video player so you can see the finer details of this.)
Setting tabs for one part of your document
If you've ever tried to re-set tabs for a document and found that suddenly all the default tabs were gone or you'd messed up the rest of your document somehow, here's a little trick: Select the text you want affected by the new tab settings, then set the tabs. The rest of the document will be unaffected.
What challenges have you had with setting tabs? Let me know in the comments below.