How to change a Word document's default tabs

When Word's default tab stops of every half inch don't get the job done, change the default setting!

A few months ago, I wrote a tutorial on creating and using tabs. The one thing missing from that piece is how to change the default tabs for a document. Word's default tabs are set at half-inch intervals, but that won't always be the most efficient setting. Fortunately, you can change the default tab stop for the current document, as follows:

  1. Click the Home tab and then click the Paragraph group's dialog launcher (the small arrow in the bottom-right corner). In Word 2003, choose Tab from the Format menu.
  2. Click Tabs (in the bottom-left corner).
  3. Change the default tab from .50 to .25. (There are other attributes you can change as well.)
  4. Click OK.

After making this easy change, default tabs will be every quarter inch instead of every half inch. You can make the tabs smaller or larger to suit your needs.

Changing the default requires a bit of planning because changing this default will adjust any existing tabs, accordingly. (Notice that the original tab stops at each half inch mark are at the quarter-inch mark in the second figure.)


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.


This is just the tip of an extremely annoying iceberg for English (British) users! Not only tabs are set by default to 1/2" intervals, but everything else pre-cooked in Word reflects imperial (inch) measures. I'm a heavy user of styles and it drives me crazy that all the indents, tabs, etc., in Word are based on inch values. Sure, I can switch to metric units, but all those styles are simply converted from inches to the corresponding odd metric values. Tabs at 1.27mm? Aaarggghh! Hey Microsoft America, most of the World (and even a lot of the USA like Boeing and Ford) have gone metric. When will you catch up? RS


Is it possible to have different tab settings on different areas of your document, or does it automatically adjust the entire document?


You know, I don't think I've ever had to do this and so, I thought you should be able to insert a section break, but it doesn't work -- changing the default tabs in a new section changes them for the entire document. So, that left me with one final idea -- create a custom style, but that option lets you set tabs, but it won't let you set a default tab for the style. I'm out of ideas. Maybe a reader will know how to do this!