Mastering the Ruler in Word – Part 2

About Tab Stops & Tabulations

In this second installment, we will discuss more about Word Ruler. Especially about the various tab stops and how to configure dot leader. Just below the Ribbon is the Word ruler. At the far left of the ruler is a small box called the Tab Selector. Clicking in the Tab Selector will cycle through the various tab stops available in Word.

As you can see in the Tab Selector above, the Left tab stop is the default. Clicking on the bottom half of the ruler or just below will insert a tab at that location in the current paragraph. Once inserted, you can drag it along the ruler with the mouse to change its location. To remove a tab stop, drag it off below the ruler.

Tip #6: To clear the ruler of all its tab stops (including any indentation) and reset it to its default use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Q.

Lets briefly discuss the purpose of each tab stop. In the image below is a representation of the five tab stops available in Word. Just remember that hitting the Tab key will instantly position the insertion point under next tab stop in the ruler.

Shape 1 – Insert a Left tab stop in the ruler. Lines of text entered will align on the left.

Shape 2 – Insert a Center tab stop. Lines of text will align in the middle of each line.

Shape 3 – Insert a Right tab stop. Lines of text entered will align on the right.

Shape 4 – Insert a Decimal tab stop. Essentially only works with numbers having various number of decimal. Will align a column of numbers on the decimal point.

Shape 5 – Insert a Bar tab. Draw a vertical bar the same height of the paragraph. Typically, this bar appears inside the left margin.

Example of the first three tabulations

Below you see how content would align using the first three tabulations.

Tip #7: Once the ruler is configured the way you want you can type the content hitting Tab between each tab stop. Hit Enter to create new line and Word will preserve the ruler configuration. Hit Ctrl+Q once you’re done to reset the ruler.

Example of a Decimal tabulation

As mentioned earlier, a Decimal tab is used with amounts having various number of decimals. If all your amount have two decimals, you can use the Right tab stop. In the example below, all figures in the Increase column align of the decimal point. Note that in your case the decimal character may be a comma.

Example of a Dot leader in a list

I’m asked this question so often! Admittedly, it may not be evident to all but the good news is that it is not difficult. Below is a typical example of a list using Tabs Leader option.

Let us see how to reproduce the example above. We will assume that the branch names are on the left margin and that the column titles are already typed.

  1. Make sure you are positioned in the first line of your list. Type the name of the first branch.
  2. Click the Tab Selector until you see a Right Tab.
  3. Click in the ruler approximately where you want the number to align (on the right).
  4. Move the mouse over the newly created Tab stop. When the screen tip Right Tab appears double click on the tab to display the Tabs dialog box. In the Leader section at the bottom select option 2. Click on OK.
  5. Type the name of the branch then hit Tab once! The dot leaders appear immediately!
  6. Type the amount then press Enter (to carry the dot leader configuration to the next line)
  7. Continue with the next line.
  8. Once done, hit Enter then Ctrl+Q to reset the ruler to its default.

Tip #8: If you need to change the distance between the branches and the column of numbers, select the table of branches and Total only. Drag the right tab stop in the ruler to another position in the ruler. Let go of the mouse and the column of numbers will immediately align itself at the new location.

Example of a Bar tab

The Bar tab is not what you would think at first! It create a vertical bar the height of the current paragraph. Although it seems useless at first, once we see a good example of it, we immediately appreciate its usefulness. Look at the portion of a document below:

The vertical bar on the left of the paragraph draws the attention of the reader. It may be an important note, a clause, an update to the previous quote, etc.

Unfortunately Microsoft made a big blunder with that feature. If you are using Word 2013-16, there are a few extra steps to do this plus a small bug! Only good news is that if you’re careful it can still be done!

Open any document you can practice with. Click anywhere in a four or five lines paragraph and follow these steps:

  1. Click in the Tab Selector box until you see the vertical bar.
  2. Click anywhere in your ruler to insert the tab. A vertical bar appear through your paragraph.
  3. Move the mouse over the newly created Vertical Tab stop and double-click it to display the Tabs dialog box. Click the Clear All button.
  4. In the Tab stop position box type -0.1 then click Bar in the Alignment section. Finally, click OK.

Unfortunately, if you wish to move the Bar tab and click on it in the ruler, the Bar tab will inexplicably jump to the left margin of the paragraph. Fixing this is a bit tedious.

Tip #9: If you like the idea of the vertical bar to draw the attention to a paragraph and, like me, you are disappointed that Word messed it up then you will love this solution. The idea is to use a Left Border from the Borders button in the Paragraph group. The most common use of this feature is to have a border all around a paragraph to highlight it.

However, selecting a Left Border as shown of the right will do just that, a vertical border on the left of the selected paragraph. Later to remove that border you can simply select Left Border again or choose No Border from the same menu.

As a bonus, you can use your mouse the drag the border slightly further to the left to increase the the distance with the paragraph. However, my favourite way to control the border of a paragraph is to use the Border and Shading command at the bottom of the same menu, then click Options to adjust the Left border distance.

The Tabs dialog box

The Tabs dialog box is hard to find when you don’t know where to look. In the Home tab. Locate the Paragraph group and click the dialog box launcher. Then at the bottom left you will find the Tabs button.

There are not many tasks requiring the Tabs dialog box since tab stops can be handled right from the ruler. However when it comes to positioning a Bar tab it becomes important. This is also the only place to configure a dot leader.

Tip #10: Suppose you’re a big fan of the Tabs dialog box (like me), follow the steps below to create a keyboard short that will launch that dialog box:
Choose File > Options > Customize Ribbon.
Near the bottom of the dialog box click Customize next to Keyboard shortcuts.
In the Category scroll to All Commands. On the right scroll down to FormatTabs.
In the box Press new shortcut key press Ctrl+Alt+T then click Assign.
Finally click Close then OK

Try your new toy: Press Ctrl+Alt+T to open the Tabs dialog box.

Return to: Mastering the Ruler in Word – Part 1


MS Office Trainer for 23 years. I am also an Access developer and I love teaching VBA in Excel.

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