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May 2006 : word


  indent with confidence

It’s possible that you’re already a pro when it comes to left tab stops and first line indent markers. But if you’re like many Word users, you’ve probably pounded out hundreds of memos, reports, and letters in Word, while remaining a little perplexed by the strange cast of characters perched on the horizontal ruler at the top of the document.

In this lesson, we’ll unravel the mystery of paragraph formatting items such as the hanging indent and left tab stop so that you can use them purposefully, not just accidentally.

In the margins

The first thing to understand about document formatting is margins. Margins are the blank spaces around the edges of the page. The margins appear on the rulers as gray areas. You can adjust margin size by selecting File > Page Setup and making adjustments on the Margins tab, but the default margins are usually fine for most documents.

Inside the margins, you can adjust the horizontal layout of your text and other objects using alignment, indents, and tab stops. We’ll look at each of these.

Text alignment

Alignment is pretty straightforward. By default, text is aligned to the left side of the page, but you can click the Center, Align Right, and Justify buttons on the Formatting toolbar to change the alignment. Justified alignment adjusts the spacing between words so that the text is flush with both the left and right margins, creating a clean look, like that seen in newspaper columns.

First line indent

The next tool at your disposal is indents, which include the first line indent, hanging indent, and left indent. By default, there are no indents in Word documents, so the three markers appear near the left end of the horizontal ruler, up against the left margin.

The first line indent allows you to indent only the first line of a paragraph; a common document format. You can choose the size of the indent by clicking the First Line Indent marker on the ruler and dragging it to the right. Or, you can set a first line indent by selecting Format > Paragraph from the menu, selecting First line from the Special list, and adjusting the size of the indent using the By arrows. By using this dialog box, you can choose a very exact indent distance.

Note: Indent formatting is applied to selected paragraphs and following paragraphs will inherit the formatting.

Hanging indent

A hanging indent allows you to indent the paragraph text after the first line. These are often used for bulleted or numbered lists, and on a page of sited references.

You can create a hanging indent by clicking the Hanging Indent marker on the horizontal ruler and dragging it to the right. Notice that the Left Indent marker comes with it, but the First Line Indent marker stays put. This way, all of the text except for the first line becomes indented.

Much like the first line indent, the hanging indent can be set more exactly by selecting Format > Paragraph from the menu, selecting Hanging Indent from the Special list, and adjusting the size of the indent using the By arrows.

Left indent

When you click and drag the Left Indent marker on the horizontal ruler, the entire paragraph is indented. If there is already a first line or hanging indent, those indents are preserved, but the entire paragraph, including those indents, shifts over

Another easy way to move the left indent is with the Increase and Decrease Indent buttons on the Formatting toolbar. Each click of these buttons adjusts the indent by another half an inch. Or, for a more fine-tuned approach, you can select Format > Paragraph from the menu and click the Left arrows in the Indentation section until you reach the desired indent.

Right indent

The right indent adjusts the right edge of your text. Simply slide it on the horizontal ruler to define the right edge of a paragraph. Or, select Format > Paragraph from the menu and click the Right arrows in the Indentation section.

Use this feature when you want to leave extra space on the right-hand side margin.

That’s the extent of indents, which brings us to the question: How are indents different from tab stops?

Tab stops 101

Tab stops are little black markers that you can stick on the horizontal ruler to control the <Tab> key. By default, when you press <Tab> the cursor moves half an inch to the right. By using tab stops, you can change the way the <Tab> key works.

Unlike indents, tabs come into play only if you press the <Tab> key, in which case your cursor moves to the point on the ruler where the tab stop is set. You can set tab stops with left, right, center, or decimal alignment. This means that when you start typing at the tab stop, the text will go in the specified direction. Or, in the case of a decimal stop, which is used for numbers, the characters will align with the decimal point located directly at the tab stop. This is useful for lining up a column of numbers by the decimal point.

Note: Word 2000, 2002 and 2003 also offer a Bar tab that inserts a short vertical line where you put the tab stop.

To add a tab stop, click the Left Tab button at the left end of the horizontal ruler until it changes to the type of tab you want to use. Then, click the ruler where you want to insert the tab stop. The tab stop appears on the ruler.

Now when you press <Tab>, the cursor moves to the next stop. As you type, the text takes on the alignment you selected. You can add multiple tab stops, and you can also remove a tab stop by dragging it off the ruler.


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  upcoming classes on Word

Applied Office is offering three free classes on Microsoft Word in the month of July, hosted at the Lodi Public Library.  Sign up early because seating is very limited.  Find out more.

  keyboard shortcut of the month

Want to quickly resize your text?  Select the word, line, paragraph, or the entire document (Ctrl-A) and then press Ctrl-[ or Ctrl-].  Those symbols are called brackets, and they're just above your enter key.

Your text will grow or shrink one increment each time you hit the shortcut key.

  quick reference card

Get the Quick Reference Card on Microsoft Word!  Download it for free and print it on your own printer.  You might even want to laminate it.

  screen shots

The following screen shots illustrate the articles on the left.  Click on one for a larger view.

The Paragraph dialog box.


Examples of indents and tabs in action.