Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Accurately Setting Tabs Using the Ruler.

Accurately Setting Tabs Using the Ruler

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 11, 2016)

You probably know that Word allows you to set tabs in a paragraph by clicking on the Ruler at the top of the document window. The tab that is inserted depends on the tab type selected at the left side of the Ruler. You can then click on the tab and drag it to the location desired.

Sometimes, however, accurately placing the tabs using the Ruler and the mouse can be a pain. In fact, you may notice that the tabs seem to "jump" from one location to another as you are dragging them. If this is the case, and you long for a way to more accurately set the tabs using the mouse on the Ruler, there are a couple of things you can check out.

First, you should understand that the grid settings on the drawing layer can affect the dragging behavior for tabs. (Nobody seems to know why this is the case; it just is.) Word, by default, is configured so that "snap to grid" is turned on, and the grid is set for 1/16-inch increments. Thus, when you drag a tab stop, it seems to "jump" in increments of 1/16 inch. If you don't need the drawing grid, you can turn it off by following these steps:

  1. Make sure the Drawing toolbar is displayed. (Choose View | Toolbars | Drawing, or click on the Drawing tool on the Standard toolbar.) The toolbar should appear at the bottom of the Word window.
  2. On the Drawing toolbar, click on Draw, then choose Grid. Word displays the Drawing Grid dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Drawing Grid dialog box.

  4. Clear the Snap Objects to Grid check box.
  5. Click on OK.

You should now be able to drag tabs along the Ruler smoothly and precisely. If you want to see the precise placement of the tabs, just hold down the Alt key as you drag them.

If you still have problems placing the tabs accurately, you might try increasing the zoom setting for viewing the document, and you should make sure that your mouse is clean. (If your mouse uses a mechanical ball for positioning, and there is lint or dirt in the ball housing, that can affect the ability of the mouse to move smoothly.)

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (38) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Accurately Setting Tabs Using the Ruler.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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