Tab stops are used to horizontally align portions of text or other content on one or more lines when the portions of text or other content in each line are separated by tab characters. When you set a tab stop, you can configure it to align text to the left of the tab stop position, to align text to the right of it, to center text at it, to align the decimal point in the text at it, or to add a solid vertical line or bar at the tab stop in front of the aligned text.

In addition, a leader in the form of a dotted line, a dashed line, or a solid line that extends from the text at the previous tab stop to the text aligned at a tab stop can be configured.

If you do not set any tab stops in a paragraph either directly or by applying a style to it, Word creates default tab stops every 0.5″ (1.27 cm) across the entire width of the text area. The tab stops that are configured in a paragraph apply to all the lines in the paragraph.

You set tabs by clicking on the ruler to indicate where you want to place them. You’ll see a vertical dotted line allowing your more precise control over where they go.


You can set tabs in any section of the document, meaning the top of the page can have different tabs than the middle or the bottom. Basically, you can a different tabbing scheme on each and every line of your document if you need or desire.

Types of Tabs

There are several different kinds of tabs you can use. To pick the type, click the tab selector located at the far left-hand side of the screen as shown below.

Here we see a left tab, note all the text is aligned to the left.


And similarly, a right tab:


A center tab:


A decimal tab allow you to create columns of numbers and easily line them up by decimal point:


A vertical bar tab, which doesn’t act like a tab, allows you to demarcate text. It looks the same as if you typed | however the advantage is that you can grab the “bar tab” in the ruler and move them together.


The Tabs dialog box can be used to set tab stops for one or more paragraphs. Before opening the Tabs dialog box, place your cursor anywhere within a single paragraph for which you want to set tab stops or select the multiple paragraphs for which you want to create tab stops. Then open the Tabs dialog box as follows.

  • First open the Paragraph dialog box as described in The Paragraph Dialog Box.
  • Then in the Paragraph dialog box click Tabs.

tabs dialog

If you want to modify the tab stops that appear in the Tabs dialog box for the single paragraph or multiple paragraphs that you selected, perform the following steps.

  1. If one or more tab stops are listed under Tab stop position, click Clear All to delete all of them, or select each tab stop that you want to delete and click Clear.
  2. To set a new tab stop, enter its position in the Tab stop position text box, under Alignment select the desired type of alignment, under Leader select None or the desired type of leader, and then click Set.The position of the new tab stop should appear under Tab stop position.
  3. If you want to set more than one tab stop, repeat the previous step for each tab stop that you want to set.
  4. If you want to use evenly spaced default tab stops, after you have cleared any tab stops that may have been listed under Tab stop position, adjust the distance that appears in Default tab stops to the desired default spacing.
  5. Click OK.

Setting tabs by using the ruler is an easy, two-step process. Click the Tab Alignment button on the left of the ruler to choose the type of alignment and then click the position on the ruler to set the tab.

Tab alignment button