Basics of Tab Stops in Word 2013 - dummies

By Lois Lowe

Tab stops are position markers in a Word 2013 paragraph that specify where the insertion point will move when you press the Tab key. By default, a paragraph has tab stops every 0.5 inch, but you can change to some other interval or create custom tab stops.

Tab stops can have different alignments. The following shows the different ways tab stops can align columns of text, and the associated tab stop symbols on the Ruler.


Tab Stop Alignment Looks Like How It Works
Left (default) The letter L After you press Tab, begins text at the tab stop position
Right A backward L Moves text over so that its end aligns with the tab stop
Center An upside-down T Centers the text from the tab stop position
Decimal An upside-down T with a black dot in its lower-right
Aligns numbers so that their decimal points are at the tab stop

A tab leader is a character that repeats to form a line that helps guide the reader’s eye across the page. Any tab stop can have a leader applied to it. The leader fills in the space between that tab and the preceding one with the leader character. For example, a leader has been applied to the tab stop at the 6″ position on the Ruler.


How to create tab stops in Word 2013

You can create tab stops with the Ruler or with the Tabs dialog box. The following exercise shows both methods.

  1. In Word, press Ctrl+N to start a new blank document and then press the Tab key several times.

    Notice that the insertion point moves 0.5″ to the right each time you press Tab. That’s because the default tab stops are at 0.5″ intervals.

  2. Press the Backspace key until the insertion point returns to the left margin, removing all the tabs you typed.

  3. On the Home tab, click the dialog box launcher in the Paragraph group to open the Paragraph dialog box and then click the Tabs button.

    The Tabs dialog box opens.

  4. In the Default Tab Stops box, click the up arrow until the setting is 1″.

    Default tab stops are now at 1″ intervals.

  5. In the Tab Stop Position box, type 5″; in the Alignment area, click Right; in the Leader area, click 2 (the dotted line); and then click Set.

    The new tab stop appears on the list below the Tab Stop Position box.


  6. Click OK to close the dialog box.

  7. Type Chapter 1 and press the Tab key once.

    The insertion point moves to the 5″ tab stop.

  8. Type 1 and then press Enter.

    The new paragraph has the same tab stops as the preceding one unless you change them.

  9. Choose Home→Clear All Formatting.

    The right-aligned tab stop at 5″ is removed from the new paragraph, leaving only the default tab stops.

  10. Press the Tab key twice.

    Notice that the insertion point moves 1″ each time you press Tab because you redefined the default tab stops in Step 4.

  11. Press the Backspace key twice to remove the two tabs you typed and then click the Tab Type button at the far left of the Ruler until the tab type is center (an upside-down T — the plain one, not the one with the dot on its right side).

    The Tab Type button toggles among several tab and other settings. If you accidentally click past the center tab stop type, keep clicking and it will come back around again.

  12. Click the Ruler at the 2.5″ mark to set a center-aligned tab stop there and then press the Tab key once to move the insertion point to the new tab stop.

    When you set a custom tab stop, all the default tab stops to the left of that position are eliminated, so the first stop is your custom one.

  13. Type Note: Page numbers are preliminary.

    The text you type center-aligns with the tab stop.


  14. Save the document.

How to change and remove tab stops in Word 2013

The easiest way to change and remove tab stops is to work with them directly on the Ruler. You can drag a tab stop to the right or left to shift its position, or you can drag it off the Ruler entirely (up or down) to remove it.

To change a tab stop’s type, double-click the tab stop on the Ruler to open the Tabs dialog box and make your changes there.

  1. In the document you created earlier, click in the paragraph that begins with “Note. . .”

  2. The Ruler shows one custom tab stop for that paragraph: a center-aligned tab at the 2.5″ mark.

  3. Drag the tab stop down off the Ruler to delete it.

  4. The text reverts to left-aligned with the default tab stop at the 1″ mark.

    Note: When no custom tab stops are set for a paragraph, the paragraph reverts to the default tab stops. This paragraph has default tab stops every 1″ because in an earlier exercise, you changed the default from its original 0.5″ setting.

  5. Click in the Chapter 1 paragraph.

    The Ruler shows a custom tab stop at the 5″ mark.

  6. Drag the custom tab stop from the 5″ mark to the 6″ mark on the Ruler.

    The number 1 moves to the 6″ mark on the Ruler, and the leader extends to fill the extra space.


  7. Save the document and close it.