Software

Don't use Tab to indent paragraphs in a Word document

Using Tab to indent the first line of a paragraph in a Word document is inefficient and unnecessary. By setting a simple option, you can skip Tab and go right to typing text.

Most of the time, I press Tab to indent the first line of a new paragraph. It's easy and I seldom write anything that requires more than just a few paragraphs. However, using Tab does introduce the potential for trouble. For example, if you combine two paragraphs, you have to delete the Tab at the beginning of the second paragraph. It's not a big deal in a short document, but those tabs can add up if you do some serious restructuring.

The truth is, Tab just isn't necessary. Instead, use Word's indent feature as follows:

  1. From the Format menu, choose Paragraph.
  2. Click the Indents And Spacing tab.
  3. In the Indention section, select First Line from the Special control's drop-down list.
  4. Specify the size of the indention using the By control's drop-down list. Then, click OK to return to your document.

january20009blog4fig1.jpgWhen you press Enter, Word assumes you're starting a new paragraph and automatically indents the first line. You don't have to press a thing. If you need to remove an indent for a single paragraph, just move the First Line Indent marker on the ruler for that paragraph.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

99 comments
gwyn909
gwyn909

I try not to use MS Word for anything. I like to be in control of what I am doing not what MS tells me I have to do. I much rather use Wordperfect although I bought MS Office 2007. I do all my formatting in Wordperfect or Open Office and then if I have to send the document out I copy it into MS Word, save it in 2003 format.

robbie
robbie

Excellent help for a BIG problem I've been wrangling with for some time. THANKS!

laura.walker
laura.walker

Microsoft's paragraph marker (the backward P) holds all tab information for a paragraph. If you wish another tabbing style simply copy+paste (from a desired tabbing style paragraph marker) over another tabbing style paragraph marker - done. lrw

fisico
fisico

Excelente TIP para trabajar, muchas gracias.

simon.freeman
simon.freeman

I am afraid I prefer to insert tabs manually, but what I hate is when you hit Tab and Word doesn't insert a tab but indents the paragraph. I'd love to know how to stop this. Anyone know.

daileyml
daileyml

Have we really become so dependent upon technology--read 'lazy'--that we need to set an option to save us from the horrible burden of pressing the Tab key? I understand the authors intent and applaud the useful information, but have we really gotten to the point where we are this lazy? Really? Seriously? -Mike D http://www.daileymuse.com

jdclyde
jdclyde

I have seen people use SPACES to indent. And the cardinal sin, people that MANUALLY end their lines instead of using word wrap. :0 You do something as simple as change font size and the whole document is pooched.

DAKSPORT99
DAKSPORT99

"For example, if you combine two paragraphs, you have to delete the Tab at the beginning of the second paragraph. It?s not a big deal in a short document, but those tabs can add up if you do some serious restructuring.The truth is, Tab just isn?t necessary. Instead, use Word?s indent feature as follows:" No space between "restructuring.The"

terry
terry

Walking is good but...

terry
terry

It seems that Styles is completely overlooked in this discussion. The most powerful parts of Word are Templates & Styles. Understanding these and implementing them makes this discussion irrelevant. Correcting a 1cm indent on the first line of a para (or removing it) even in a 300+ page document is the work of 10 seconds or less. Happy 2010 to everybody

mlusk
mlusk

If you are using Word 2007, I'm not sure how to turn off this feature, but in Word 2003, try this: 1. On the Tools menu, click AutoCorrect Options, and then click the AutoFormat As You Type tab. 2. Under Automatically as you type, clear the Set left- and first-indent with tabs and backspaces check box.

GBlake622
GBlake622

I have Word 2002 and when I changed the formatting and clicked ok. The formatting would not stay changed. Any ideas on why not?

krystyne20
krystyne20

Imagine you have a 50 page document and each paragraph has been indent using the tab key at .5 inches. Then your boss tells you that the paragraphs need to be indented at 1 inch. If you used the tab key, you're going to have to add an additional tab to each of your paragraphs. But, if you used a proper indent, you could just highlight all the paragraphs and move the indent. But I guess you would call that "lazy".

kdavis
kdavis

If you are only typng a letter that will never be reused, by all means, tab a way. However, in documentation that is updated by more than one person or produced by a technical writing department where standards prevail, anything that is manually done causes more work for the next person who updates the document. A lone writer can do whatever he or she wants. Those of us on a team or those who must maintain strict document standards for future use must make styles as homogeneous as possible.

iamagas
iamagas

I agree with part of what you say. I think tt's great that we can use built-in tools to become more efficient. What gripes me is when people substitute spell-check for proof reading their documents. It'll be a red-letter day when word processors can detect grammatical errors like: to and too, then and than, their, there and they're, etc. Then maybe we'll stop seeing the English language deteriorate.

ray.labrecque
ray.labrecque

The author stated that using the Tab key is problematic when restructuring a document. I believe the statement was that you wind up with Two Tabs if paragraphs are combined. Using the Features as recommended eliminates that problem. For sure hitting the Tab key is easy and becomes natural. Eventually you won't even think about it. (just like my TWO spaces at the end of each sentence!) But as a tech support person, and one who writes technical docs fairly frequently, I do re-structure my documents frequently and having things like double tabs is a real PITA to clean up... To be quite honest tho, I stopped indenting paragraphs decades ago! I prefer the squared and symmetrical look of no indent... So I guess I'm breaking a punctuation & grammar rule too!!!

dhays
dhays

I would probably do it a third way. I would manually move the indent marker to where I want it. In a document there are possibly several different fortmats needed, so it is easier to customize vs standardize. I have seen the one space vs two spaces, but I can't put a finger on a reference. Consistency should rule, though.

candzgramma
candzgramma

When I have a 300 page document to edit, I am grateful for everthing technology can do fo me. Or like the last two weeks, several hundred documents that all have to look alike. Technology is my friend. Susan

Rande
Rande

We are simply being taught to use MSWord the way the designers meant the program to be used. Efficiency and simplicity is what we are learning here. I for one always look forward to these little tips even though I use many of them already.

jdclyde
jdclyde

In this day of formatted text, it is stupid to use a tab to indent instead of the paragraph option. So, which is worse, lazy [i]( use technology available )[/i] or stupid [i]( to lazy to learn ) [/i]?

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Not exactly funny. But it's laugh or cry. Crying stops up my nose, and makes my eyes puffy and red and raw feeling.

ssharkins
ssharkins

It's not just one behavior -- it's many together that makes us more efficient. What seems unimportant can quickly become a mess. If it's not a problem, it's not a problem -- but anytime you can save folks a few keystrokes now and a lot of trouble later, that's a good thing. But I do appreciate that something like this isn't going to mean much to a lot of users.

Tink!
Tink!

the pressing of the Tab key that is the burden. It would be the necessary manual deletion of Tabs throughout a document if any reformatting of paragraphs was done.

arthurborges
arthurborges

Their numbers do seem to be dwindling over the years though I'm not sure whether their greatest natural enemy is excitable proofreaders with gun licenses or DTP layout artists with meat cleavers.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I still see some of that too -- my own daughter!!!! She recently asked me to update her resume -- what a mess! ;) I retyped the thing from scratch rather than try to muddle my way through it.

arthurborges
arthurborges

While we're at this: It's = It is It's = It has Its = a cousin to My, Your, His, Her, Our and Their You wouldn't write "hi's suppository" or "he'r tampax", right? THUS: It's for internal usage and it's ended up in its right place.

burbeen
burbeen

Unless you double space between lines, there is no reason to tab. Just double space between paragraphs. It looks neater. The tab goes back to when paper (parchment) was expensive.

ginmemphis
ginmemphis

Thanks for the helpful hint, I'll pass it on to coworkers. As an editor/publications designer (in addition to tech support) my biggest pain is having to clean up manual formatting: unneccesary or multiple tabs, extra spaces, manual line returns. ARGH! Any rewriting, font or margin change can totally screw up the document. Use manual formatting only if you're creating one copy then tossing the document -- better yet, just use a typewriter.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Also, you need a period at the end of your final sentence. If you're going to highlight the mistakes of others, make sure you aren't committing any yourself. You've been a member for over nine years; is nit-picking a punctuation error the best you can do for your first comment in recorded history?

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

You must missed the fact this discussion is a year old.

mwb78
mwb78

In Word 2007 you use the same AutoCorrect Options. They are found in the Office Button, Word Options, Proofing category, at the top of the page.

ProperName
ProperName

Quote iamagas: "It'll be a red-letter day when word processors can detect grammatical errors like: to and too, then and than, their, there and they're, etc. Then maybe we'll stop seeing the English language deteriorate." Your red-letter day should have arrived already. Start Word (2000 or XP anyway) and go to "Tools, Options and then click on the Spelling and Grammar tab. In the bottom right corner there is an option box for "Writing Style". Choose Formal. I have used Office 2000 and XP with this setting and I find that it catches 95% of grammar errors. It also flags a single space after a period. ;-)

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

that can slow or halt the deterioration of the English language. It's people bothering to learn to use the English language correctly that can slow or halt the deterioration of the English language. Depending on computers to save our asses from ourselves is every bit as stupid as depending on government to save us from ourselves.

arthurborges
arthurborges

I like my writing short and sharp: the lower the page count, the better. So I go for zero indent in prose where periods get democratically equal treatment with commas: one space.

dhays
dhays

That's TOO not TO

santeewelding
santeewelding

Some of us here closet klutzes we hang on every word about this.

arthurborges
arthurborges

Yeppers, folks! If you're writing for publication, fish around for, and apply, the author guidelines on the publisher's website. If the document goes through revisions, wait till the final version before running your spellcheck. Don't let that stop you from fixing errors you happen to spot along the way though. When you're finished, also clean up the extra spaces that tend to collect at the end of paragraphs.

mharris672
mharris672

Yer killin' me, man! Great comment! As fast as we respond and type in today's environment, you've got to expect a few grammatical mistakes (no big deal...they can be corrected quite easily). M.H.

dukeusc
dukeusc

...and in this corner weighing in at 200lbs of solid Batesburg-Leesville muscle from the bordering state of South Care--oh--lie- naaaaaaa! The Palmetto Thrasher Leeetttts get ready to rummmmble. Oh you know what I was thinking, too... even quicker is to use the Style Sheet, shortcut it with a CTRL 4 (por ejemplo) and click away. -or- change the default style.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

You don't need a final space at the end of the paragraph. I can't think of a reason to combine a bunch of paragraphs into one automatically, and if you need to, you could replace a hard return (^p) with hard return plus space.

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

You should have two spaces after a period. EMD

papgas
papgas

Such comments should not have any place here or anywhere else. Only God - and those who do NOTHING - make no mistakes. It is better to remain silent if you got nothing better to say

maxwell edison
maxwell edison

It is amazing that the first post since 1999 is that one - criticizing a missing space with a misspelled word. Maybe we'll see another one in 2018.

neilb
neilb

A hit, Palmy, a very palpable hit. Neil :)

kkroon_ftb
kkroon_ftb

In fact, I used them all the time in Word *2000* ...

simon.freeman
simon.freeman

Thanks guys for your replies. I have Word 2000 SP3 and the Autocorrect options do not seem to cover this issue. Such is life, thanks again

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

I edit a newsletter for our Computer Club, many articles are accepted for inclusion. Since Microsoft Publisher doesn't automatically change from 2 to 1, I always use the Change function to change 2 to 1. Many times on a long article, that change allows one to save a page. With over 1,000 members, if half print the newsletter, that's a lot of paper. http://myscacc.com/node/215

arthurborges
arthurborges

I don't just hang on every word of this, I'd swing from a tree for it.

ssharkins
ssharkins

The only thing she does with Word is her resume -- she doesn't really need to learn it, but if that changes, I'll be glad to teach her. As for moving out -- I'd love it if she moved in! I worry about her, that's my job. :)

jdclyde
jdclyde

But you know, doing it for herself is the ONLY way she will learn....

ssharkins
ssharkins

She just doesn't have the skill to do it right! She's a single mom, two kids, rotten job... it's the least I could do for her. :) Know what I mean?

Zoididge1
Zoididge1

I just slide the indent marker on the tabs/margins ruler above the document to create an indented paragraph instead of all the clicking.

carolteach4
carolteach4

@kdavis - You are absolutely correct! This controversy raged between technology teachers and typing teachers for years. Your explanation is right on the money.

anne1954
anne1954

it is in England but here in the US we teach one after any puncuation on the computer. This is not typesetting. I think we will have to agree to diagree about the "correct English" part. Just because it is a different dialect does not mean it is incorrect. Don't be so snooty.

ghicks
ghicks

When teaching my daughters to punctuate their writing in kindergarten, we used "one finger space between words" and "two finger space at the end of a sentence". When teaching them to type, I used the same "one space between words" and "two spaces at the end of a sentence". However, when researching this just now, I found multiple references to "If you cannot decide, use one space at the end of a sentence."

N4AOF
N4AOF

"With mono-spaced fonts such as on a typewriter, two spaces were required. Only one space is needed with today's word processors. MS Word adjusts the space after a period automatically.' Actually Word (at least through Word 2003) does NOT adjust the spacing after the period at the end of a sentence. It simply uses whatever width the particular font assigns to the space character. Even if Word tried to adjust the spacing, it would require much more complex processing for Word to understand the difference between at the end of a sentence compared to following an abbreviation. I have seen the guidance that recommends a single space between sentences when using a proportional font and two spaces between sentences with a fixed pitch font. I assume that someone somewhere once created some proportional font where this advice would make some sort of sense -- but I don't believe that I have ever actually seen such a font. In every proportional font that I have ever seen, the period is assigned a width slightly wider than the lower case i and l but narrower than an upper case I. Meanwhile the space is assigned a width slightly narrower than the period. The result is that a single space used after a period in any common proportional font yields much less spacing between sentences than would occur when using the conventional two spaces after the period in a fixed pitch font.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Exclude yourself and most other Americans, it is only three or four Americans that they use for such broadcasts around the world, that's how others get the insane ideas about Americans. Nobody actually thinks it, just me and perhaps one or two others, as for dumb/lazy Americans, again it is the three or four token Americans pulled out of the bottom drawer for their TV spot to show the world how dumb they are and to make people feel that's what Americans are like, but they aren't really, so I am told by other Americans. So next time you see yourself doubting your fellow Americans, just remember that you are wrong. It is only a handful of Americans, made to look like many millions, MOST Americans aren't that way at all. That's why NOBODY suported Bush or the Iraq war, well nobody today anyway. Ifi you were opposed to teh war before you were called anti-American, a terrorist and told that you are eithe with them or against them (Americans). I suppose I took the high ground and went against them, though its not so lonely there today as more and mreo people start to admit that they never supported it either, noooooooo, not unless they were told to or else they were not true Americans, heaven forbid that! Independant thought? Not in America, land of independence. LOL :D

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

I have found that people in the US have become very lazy. It's all about "ME" and what "I" want to do. Rules are ignored, for the convenience of "personal preference", and we've seen the results. Thank you. I now remember why I liked you Brits so much! EMD

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Well said! 'kin lazy morons!

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Robin Williams, the female that wrote The Mac is not a Typewriter, also? Isn't she just an American computer manual writer? So what you are referring to specifically is some sort of pseudo US online grammar that people use today because they are too lazy to hit space twice and properly segregate sentences. You do realize that this comes from a nation where the majority of citizens don't understand the difference or when to use THAN instead of THEN, right? From what I have heard, the reason the second space was dropped in computing has nothing to do with MS Word, it was due to web code. When writing HTML, no matter how many spaces you enter in the code, most browsers render one space. Therefore readability is deemed to require one space. Proportional fonts, online, make the second space irrelevant, unless typing in Courier (which I usually use for print publications) or some other non-proportional font. I write for print, therefore I usually add a second space; if I don't, the editors do it for me and then harp on me about it. One editor's office has a bike rack next to her parking space, when I park there, I always straddle the space and take up two spaces. So she always reminds me that writing is like her parking space, so why do I take two there but why only one in my article? As far as typesetting is concerned, two spaces after a period and one after a comma. For readability issues, regardless of font style, most readers find that a double space after a period offers a more recognizable break from one sentence to another.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I just double checked with one of my editors and yes it is two spaces after a period and only ONE after a comma. That's how I learned it in England too, where they actually teach correct English.

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

I work in a professional (legal) office. TWO spaces are required. I have worked for or in several business fields and ALL have used two spaces. The MLA is wrong because too many people have forgotten how to write a letter with the proper punctuation, grammar and spelling. One's personal preferences has won out (even stated so in the MLA) and we've seen the obvious results, especially on the site. EMD

tlccomputers
tlccomputers

The MLA clearly states there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks, i.e. periods, UNLESS an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise. So it really is a matter of personal choice.

tlccomputers
tlccomputers

And as is made clear in the MLA handbook, it really is a matter of personal choice. Here is the quote: "Because it is increasingly common for papers and manuscripts to be prepared with a single space after all punctuation marks, this spacing is shown in the examples in the MLA Handbook and the MLA Style Manual. As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise."

d.j.elliott
d.j.elliott

Two spaces is what your typing teacher taught you, prior to the days of proportional text. check out The Pc is Not a Typewriter by Robin Williams

vehlingj
vehlingj

In earlier version of Word (1990s) the instructions indicated that the program compensated for the proper spacing after a period and that double-spacing was unecessary

vehlingj
vehlingj

In earlier versions of Word (in the 1990s) the instructions indicated that the program compensated for proper spacing after a period.

kdavis
kdavis

With mono-spaced fonts such as on a typewriter, two spaces were required. Only one space is needed with today's word processors. MS Word adjusts the space after a period automatically.

ssharkins
ssharkins

The running rule was 2 periods for letters, 1 space for everything else. Now, the standard is just 1 space for all documents, and it's been that way for a long time.

PSK_
PSK_

The MLA (Modern Language Association) Handbook, academia?s most commonly used reference for publishing papers, essays and the like, seems to disagree with you. This issue is discussed on the MLA site at the following link. http://www.mla.org/style_faq3

Hogie51
Hogie51

The double space after a period was used in fixed font typesetting to identify the change in sentences. It was a convention used in the industry that was replacing handwriting. As proportional fonts have become the norm, the doublespace is no longer necessary to identify the breaks in sentences, and are considered an obsolete convention. It's not wrong, just an archaic convention, much like using "f" for lower case "s".

TechRepublic
TechRepublic

In my opinion the main benefit is consistency. Hitting the tab key after the carriage return is so easy it is almost automatic. But in many of the documents that cross my desk, the tab settings vary wildly from paragraph to paragraph. A single tab may indent 5 spaces in one paragraph and 3, or 7, in the next.

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

The correct and proper way is two spaces after each and every period. Bringing in personal preference is why grammar and spelling are not used properly in today?s world. EMD

tlccomputers
tlccomputers

That's a matter of personal preference. All that is really necessary is that you are consistent with spacing. If you begin with just one space after a period, keep it down to one space for the entire document.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

This sucker's a year old and wasn't much more than sniping in the first place. Re-inter it and let the worms resume their meal.

yschoo1
yschoo1

Better to be silent and be thought of having a medical condition known as amnezia. Sorry, I meant amnesia.

yschoo1
yschoo1

I think the word he wants is "divine", not "devine" or "Devine". "Devine" is a family name. Donald Grant Devine (born July 5, 1944) was the 11th Premier of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan from May 8, 1982 to November 1, 1991. Nobody uses Spell-checker anymore?

Amnezia
Amnezia

Better to be silent and be "thought" a fool than to take up the pen and remove all doubt?

papgas
papgas

Actually, it is not that bad but I feel sad when I think that the best part of my life has passed and the worst is to come

tlccomputers
tlccomputers

mid 50s here, so I'm not very far behind you.

papgas
papgas

Thank you again. In my late 50s, things are getting less obvious day by day!

tlccomputers
tlccomputers

To pick nits, just as I stated in the heading for that post.

papgas
papgas

Thank you. You thought correctly, "Divine" I should have typed, but yet, you posted it for what? (rhetoric question)

tlccomputers
tlccomputers

I think the word you want is divine, not devine. Devine was a Hollywood celebrity back in the 1950s and earlier (Andy Devine).

Amnezia
Amnezia

It'll be as erudite as the first.

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