How to Set Tabs in a Microsoft Word Document

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Microsoft Word 2013 and 2010 have three main types of tab stops used to position text: Left tabs left-align text to the right of the stop's location, Center tabs center text around the tab stop and Right tabs right-align text, making it end at the stop's position. To add a tab stop, pick a type from the tab selector and click on the ruler. For more precise control or to add dots or dashes to a tab, adjust the settings in the Tabs window.


Step 1

Press the tab selector, located between the File menu and the left-hand ruler, to cycle through types of tab stops. Left tab stops look like an "L," Center stops look like an inverted "T" and Right stops look like a backwards "L."


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Step 2

Click anywhere along the horizontal ruler at the top of a page to place the selected tab stop. By default, tabs apply to all new lines of text added after tab placement. To add tabs to existing text, select the text before clicking on the ruler. Click elsewhere on the ruler to add additional stops.


Step 3

Drag an existing tab stop along the ruler to reposition it. As you drag, Word displays a vertical line to help you align the tab with other text on the page. To delete a tab stop, drag it off the ruler vertically.


Step 4

Double-click a tab stop on the ruler to open the Tabs window and set tab stops by entering exact positions in inches. Type the position for a stop in the text box, choose an alignment and press "Set."


Step 5

Select a tab stop on the list, choose a style in the Leader section and click "Set" to add dots or dashes to the blank space left by a tab. Press "OK" to close the Tabs window and apply all changes.


If you don't see the tab selector, click "View" and check "Ruler."

In addition to the three regular types of tab stops on the tab selector, Word has a Decimal stop, which looks like an inverted T with a dot. This stop aligns numbers along a decimal point. The other items in the tab selector do not affect tabs: One draws a vertical bar, and the other two adjust paragraph indents.

Change the "Default Tab Stops" setting in the Tabs window to affect how far the Tab key moves the cursor when not affected by specific tab stops. This setting applies to the entire document.

Press "Clear All" in the Tabs window to erase all tab stops or select an individual tab stop and click "Clear" to remove it.


Altering the tab stops on an existing document might break page layouts or shift line breaks. For the best results, set the tabs before you type.