Setting Tab Stops in Word 2011 for Mac

The old-fashioned idea of a basic tab stop is that when you press the Tab key, the cursor jumps to the next tab stop that’s set on the ruler and then you start typing. In Office 2011 for Mac, this kind of tab stop is the left tab stop. These days, tabs do a lot more than just act as a position to stop the cursor.

Tabs work at the paragraph level; when you set tab stops, they work with the currently selected paragraphs. You can select an entire document before you set tabs if you want your tab stops to work for the whole thing. The actual steps to set a tab stop are simple:

  1. Select one or more paragraphs.

    If you want to select the entire document, choose Edit→Select All from the menu bar or press Command-A.

  2. Click the Tabs menu and choose one of the five tab stops.

  3. Click in the horizontal ruler wherever you want a tab stop.

    Each time you click, the symbol for the tab stop you chose is placed into the ruler.

When you work with tabs, be sure to toggle paragraph marks on and off with the Show All Non-Printing Characters button on the Standard toolbar. This button is simply labeled Show on the toolbar. When paragraph marks are turned on, you see an arrow pointing to the right appear in the text whenever you press the Tab key.

Your paragraph behaves differently for each of the five kinds of tab stops. Here are descriptions of each kind of tab stop:

  • Left: By default, each document has a left tab stop every 1/2 inch, unless you click in the ruler to add your own stops.

  • Center: After you set a center tab stop, press the Tab key to move to the stop. When you start typing, your text is centered below the tab stop.

  • Right: After you set a right tab stop, press the Tab key to move to the right tab stop and start typing. Use a right tab to right-align text, perhaps when making a column.

  • Decimal: As the name implies, use this tab stop when you’re typing decimal numbers. Word lines up the numbers at the decimal point. Even if you don’t type an actual decimal point, Word assumes the decimal point.

  • Bar: Danger: Using a bar tab stop may cause inebriation. Okay, not really. A bar tab stop is much the same as a left tab stop, except Word puts a vertical bar at the tab stop. After you set a bar stop and start typing, your text is to the right of the bar.

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