Tab Stop Two Step

Tab Stop Two Step
Mac Tip #264/11-Oct-2006

If you’re typing columns of text you usually want things to line up neatly. Here’s a totally fictitious mini-budget, as an example (it won’t line up correctly here):

May    food items    $200

    various drinks    $50

    power    $40

Many people desperately press the spacebar a dozen times between the columns in an attempt to make things line up.

The problem is, as last week’s Tip explained, a proportional font allows characters (including spaces) to be stretchy, so it’s extremely hard to get things to line up correctly.

That’s one reason why wordprocessor software gives us the tab character, tied to the Tab key, and Tab Stops.

Press the Tab key once per column

The rule is to press the Tab key once and only once between columns.

The screenshot shows my pseudo-budget in Apple’s, with the invisibles displayed. You can see the normally invisible blue pilcrow (the back-to-front ‘p’ character) at the end of each line and the blue arrows representing presses of the Tab key.

Notice how I’ve pressed Tab only once for each column. The only spaces I’ve used are where I must separate individual words within one column.

Set where the Tab stops line up

But it’s still a mess. That’s because using Tab is a two-step process. The Tab key automatically lines text up with a Tab Stop and the software had added some by default in places where they weren’t useful. I need to move the Tab Stops.

First select the correctly tabbed text, then go to the Ruler and delete unwanted Tab Stops by dragging them into the body of the document.

The screenshot shows the Tab Stop that used to be at around 4 on the Ruler going up in a puff of smoke as I drag it into the document.

Then drag the remaining Tab Stops into more useful positions. In the screenshot you can see that I’ve left Tab Stops at about 7 and 13 on the Ruler and the text is beautifully lined up.

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  1. Miraz Jordan said:

    Thanks for the comment Bill. I’m glad the Tip is useful for you.

    Coming next week: how to line the columns up better.

  2. Bill Scott said:

    Beautiful. Now is there a way to get the numbers to line up so the fives and fours are in the tens column, not in the hundreds column? Would right justifucation work for them? And about all those dollar signs, could we eliminate all but the first?

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