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: Setting Tab Stops Using the Tabs Dialog Box.

Setting Tab Stops Using the Tabs Dialog Box

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 19, 2017)

Tab stops allow you to quickly and accurately align information on a line in your document. If you are familiar with typewriters, then you are already familiar with the concept of tab stops. Word goes far beyond the rudimentary tab stops in typewriters, however. It allows you to set four different types of tab stop:

Type Effect
Center Text entered after pressing the Tab key is horizontally centered on the position where the tab stop is located.
Decimal Text entered after pressing the Tab key is horizontally aligned so the decimal point (or period) is where the tab stop is located. If there is no decimal point, text is right-aligned to the tab stop.
Left Text entered after pressing the Tab key is horizontally aligned so the left side of the text is where the tab stop is located.
Right Text entered after pressing the Tab key is horizontally aligned so the right side of the text is where the tab stop is located.

Word provides two major ways to set tab stops. One involves using the ruler, which is best deferred to a different tip. The other involves using the Tabs option from the Format menu. To set tab stops using this method, use the following steps:

  1. Make sure the insertion point is in the paragraph in which you want to set tabs stops.
  2. Choose the Tabs option from the Format menu. Word displays the Tabs dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Tabs dialog box.

  4. In the Tab Stop Position box, enter the measurement for where you want the tab stop located.
  5. Click on the Alignment type desired.
  6. Click on the type of Leader desired, if any.
  7. Click on Set.
  8. Repeat steps 3 through 6 for each tab stop desired.
  9. Click on OK.

You may have noticed from examining the Tabs dialog box that there is also a tab alignment type known as Bar. This is not really a tab stop at all, but a way to place a vertical bar at a particular location in your paragraph. In fact, referring to Bar as an alignment type is a misnomer because no text is aligned at all.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (244) 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: Setting Tab Stops Using the Tabs Dialog Box.

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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