#171 Word for Archaeologists Pt. 3.1: Tabs

This post is part three in a series of posts dedicated to making the lives of archaeologists sentenced to a career using Microsoft Word just a little bit easier. Part 1 is here and covers Track Changes. Part 2 covers Styles and can be found here. You can find information on a variety of topics by going to the blog’s website and typing something into the search field on the right side of the page. Let me know, in the comments below, if there is something you would like me to research and blog about, whether it is archaeology related or MS Word related, and I’ll do my best to get it out there. Tabs are so fascinating that I had to break this up into two posts. This is the first one.

Using “Tabs” in Microsoft Word

"Space" indented text *shudder*.

Ever have to either edit a document or use a “template” that someone else set up and found that some of the bullet points, offset lists or other lines are not quite lined up? Turn on the hidden characters and you’ll see why. What are hidden characters? Look for a “¶” symbol somewhere on your ribbon and make sure it is clicked on. It might be in different places depending upon the version of Word you are using. I never type a document without having that on. It shows you, by way of little dots, how many spaces you have between words and sentences, where paragraph returns are, where tabs are, and a variety of other information. If you’ve ever been typing in a document and paragraphs were behaving oddly it was likely due to something you couldn’t see. Turn the hidden characters on and you’ll quickly figure out the problem.

When the hidden characters are turned on you’ll see why your lists and bulleted sentences are not lined up. Someone used the space bar to get to another portion of the page. If you have to space over more than two spaces then you should use tabs. I don’t mean just hit the tab key either. That’s the rookie way to do it. What I mean is to use the tabs that you set up on the ruler at the top of the document.

Setting up Tabs

Rulers. If you don’t have rulers turned on you should do that. It will help you see where your tabs are and what kind they are. Usually rulers can be turned on by clicking on “View” in the menu bar and then clicking on “rulers”. Before we move to tabs let’s go over a few things you can quickly do in the ruler bar first.

One thing you can quickly do is change the margins of your document. Notice that part of the ruler is white and part is gray (assuming you have a standard color configuration-yes, you can change that). The white part represents the current configuration of your document as long as your curser is in a paragraph of normal text. If you’re in a column, table, or something else the ruler bar will reflect the settings of that part of the document.

Now, notice the triangle on the right side of the white ruler and the two triangles pointing at each other on the left side? If you move these out of the way by dragging the bottom triangle you’ll then be able to move the gray space. Just click on the border of the gray/white ruler and drag it to where you want it. You can do this to the top and bottom margins as well.

Choosing a Tab. My version of MS Word has five different types of tabs: left, center, right, decimal, and bar. Don’t worry about the bar tab (settle down). It’s just a line that goes in a paragraph and has no effect on character spacing. I’ve never used one. Let me know in the comments if you have.

Left, Center, and Right Tabs. These are straight forward and work the same way as the same designations for paragraphs. The only difference is that you are doing it on a more local scale. There are two primary ways to set a tab. Select the tab type by way of the small button to the left of the ruler (depending on your version). Then, just click in the ruler where you want the tab to go. If you want to move the tab just click and drag it. The other way to set a tab is to double click in the ruler or select “Tabs” from the “Format” menu. This will bring up a menu where you can manually set the type of tab, it’s location, and a few other fun attributes.

The left, right, and center tabs help justify text from the tab. First, set the tab. Then, hit the tab key so your curser is at the location of the tab. Now when you type the text will flow from the tab in the direction of the type of tab you have selected.

The decimal tab is weird. Text flows left from the tab until you use a period. Then, it flows normally. I’m not sure what you would use this for and I have never used it. Go nuts and tell me how it works out.


So far we’ve learned how to set up tabs, how to choose a type of tab, and how to put that tab into your document. There are a few more exciting things you can do with tabs and they’ll be covered in a post to come shortly after this one. I’m already over about 1,100 words and I try to stick to about 1,000 words. See you next time.


I’m still in the ever frustrating “trying to get clients” mode. I haven’t worked in the field since November and I’m about ready to just go tech for someone so I can get my boots on the ground again. I appreciate having the time to spend on my other projects, such as this blog, the podcast, and setting up DIGTECH documents, but I really just want some field work. I have one good possibility, a contract-signed short project in June, and a possible deal that could yield year-round work. Apart from the short project it’s all up in the air right now. I have enough money in the bank to keep trying for another month or two then I’ll need to bring in some money. So, if I get the long term gig I’ll be needing tech-savvy archaeologists to help me out. High pay and great per diem! Cash! OK. Enough blatant self-promotion.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field