How to Set Custom Tab Stops in MS Word

In an MS Word document, you can turn on invisible characters. These invisible characters have different purposes. For example, a dot represents a single space. A pilcrow represents a new paragraph, while an arrow represents a tab stop.

A tab stop allows you to start (or end) text at a specified point on your page. You can read more about it on our ‘What are Tab Stops?’ document.

2 ways you can set invisible, custom, tab stops:

  • Using the horizontal ruler.
  • Using the Paragraphs menu.

We will show you in simple, step-by-step instructions how to set custom tab stops using both methods.

Let us begin.


Method #1: Custom Tab Stops Using the Horizontal Ruler

Step #1: Open the MS Word document

Open the Word document in which you want to add tab stops.

Navigate to the paragraph where you want to set custom tab stops.

Select the paragraph by clicking with your mouse at the starting point, and holding down the button, dragging it across the area you want to select.

Step #2: Make invisible characters visible

Click on the Home tab in the top menu bar to change the ribbon. 

In the section Paragraph, click on the Pilcrow icon, which almost looks like a reverse P.

Word will now display all invisible characters in the document.

Note that only default tab stops are present, and in our example below, you will see each (now visible) tab as a small arrow pointing right.

Step #3: Turn on the Horizontal Ruler

Click on the View tab in the top menu bar to change the ribbon.

In the section Show, click and select Ruler.

Word will now display the Horizontal Ruler.

Repeatedly click on the Tab Selector under the bottom left corner of the ribbon. (It looks like a little corner.)

You can cycle through five types of tabs. With each click, you will see the Tab Selector change, and present you with the following options:

  • Left Tab Stop — Aligns the left side of the text with the tab stop.
  • Center Tab Stop — Aligns the text to center it under the tab stop.
  • Right Tab Stop — Aligns the right side of the text with the tab stop.
  • Decimal Tab Stop — Aligns the text and numbers by decimal points.
  • Bar Tab Stop — Inserts a vertical line character at the tab stop.

Pick the type of tab most suitable for your text.

We will pick the left tab stop.

Step #4: Insert custom tab stops

Click in the space slightly below the horizontal ruler. Where you click, a tab stop will be added.

In our example, we have added left tab stops at 1”, 2.5”, and 4”.

You can change the dimensions to suit the text in your document.

Word has now aligned the paragraph with the custom tab stops.


Method #2: Custom Tab Stops Using Paragraphs Menu

Step #1: Open the MS Word document

Open the Word document where you want to add custom tab stops.

Navigate to the paragraph where you want to set these.

Select the paragraph by clicking with your mouse at the starting point, and holding down the button, dragging it across the area you want to select.

Step #2: Make invisible characters visible

Click on the Home tab in the top menu bar to change the ribbon. 

In the section Paragraph, click on the Pilcrow icon, which almost looks like a reverse P.

Word will display all invisible characters in the document.

Note that only default tab stops are present, and in our example below, you will see each (now visible) tab as a small arrow pointing right.

Step #3: Open the Paragraph menu

In the section Paragraph, click on the down arrow which is on the bottom right corner.

This will open the Paragraph dialog box.

Click on the Tabs… button at the bottom of the dialog box.

This will open the Tabs dialog box.

Step #4: Set first custom tab stop

Under Tab stop position: enter the number 1.

Under Alignment, you can have one of five choices:

  • Left — Aligns the left side of the text with the tab stop.
  • Center — Aligns the text to center it under the tab stop.
  • Right — Aligns the right side of the text with the tab stop.
  • Decimal — Aligns the text and numbers by decimal points.
  • Bar — Inserts a vertical line character at the tab stop.

Pick the type of tab most suitable for your text.

In our example, we selected Left.

Under Leaders, click and select 1 None.

Click on the Set button to set this custom first tab stop.

Step #5: Set second custom tab stop

Repeat Step #4, but enter 2.5 under Tab stop position:.

Step #6: Set third custom tab stop.

Repeat Step #4, but enter 4 under Tab stop position:.

You can change your dimensions to suit the text in the document.

Click on the OK button once you are done to close the dialog box.

Word aligns the text to your custom tab stops.


Conclusion

We have shown you two simple methods to set custom tab stops in your MS Word document. Use the method most suitable for your requirements.

Once you are done, you can click on the Pilcrow icon again, to hide the invisible characters again.

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