MS-Word 2007/10/13

This article covers horizontal paragraph alignments, vertical page alignments, paragraph indentation options, and the use of tabs to align decimal numbers.

Alignments, Indentations, and Tabs

Horizontal Text Alignment

There are three horizontal text alignments, four if you include full justification. The table below summarizes their appearance and uses.

Applying Horizontal Alignments

When aligning text in a paragraph don't waste time selecting the paragraph or any of its text. Just move the insertion point anywhere inside the paragraph and give the command.

If you're aligning text using direct formatting (as opposed to using a Style), you can use the alignment tools in the Paragraph group of the Home tab, but using the keyboard is much faster and easier.

  • Ctrl-L to left-align
  • Ctrl-R to right-align
  • Ctrl-E to center.

Vertical Text Alignment

By default, pages are top-aligned, but title pages are usually centered vertically, and the first page of a chapter is frequently shortened and aligned to bottom of the page.

Positioning text vertically using empty paragraphs is not a good way to go because:

  • It's trial and error, and
  • It gets thrown off by adding or removing text or making changes to formatting

Instead, use the Vertical Alignment command which automatically adjusts text to the page's vertical center each time changes are made.

Vertical Alignment is one of the most elusive commands in the MS-Word user interface unless you remember that it is a Page command.

  1. Select the text you want centered from top to bottom on a page
  2. On the Ribbon, click: Page Layout Tab >Page Setup Dialog box >Layout tab >Vertical Alignment
  3. Beneath Vertical Alignment, choose Center.
  4. Before leaving Page Setup dialog box, click on Selected Text under Apply To.

When vertically centered, the selected text gets put on its own page. If there was text before or after it, that text gets pushed to the page before or after.

Paragraph Indentation

First of all, never use the spacebar to position text horizontally. That was Ok on typewriters with their non-proportional typeface, but with proportional typeface, indentations using spaces will vary widely, even when equal numbers of spaces are used.

Traditionally, tabs were used to indent paragraphs and position text horizontally. Because tabs have absolute widths, they do an excellent job of lining things up in columns.

Tabs, however, have been superceeded by newer alignment methods which offer greater convenience and flexibility.

Word processors offer several variations of indentation and they can be applied in combinations with each other.

  • First line indent
  • Hanging indent
  • Increased left paragraph indent
  • Increased right paragraph indent

Examine the following indentation examples and compare them with each other to see results of various combinations.

Here are the two types of paragraph indentation: first-line indent, and hanging line indent.

Both of these indentations can have their amount of left indentation increased:

Likewise, right indentation can also be increased:

And left and right indentation can increase:

Applying Indentation

There are several ways to approach the application of indentation options to paragraphs.

  • The Paragraph dialog box
  • Tools in the Ribbon's Paragraph Group
  • The Ruler
  • Styles

Paragraph Dialog Box
The Paragraph dialog box provides access to all indentation options. Launch it from the Paragraph group on the Home tab, or use its keyboard shortcut: Alt-O-P.

Paragraph Group
The Paragraph group includes buttons for Increase and Decrease left indent, but not for increase/decrease right indent or first line and hanging indents.

The Ruler
The Ruler includes four indent markers: left, first line, hanging indent, and right.

Although dragging the indent markers using the mouse is a quick way to make adjustments, results can be unexpected or inconsistent until you've had a bit of practice. If things go wrong, remember Ctrl-Z (Undo).

To toggle the Ruler on and off, use the View Ruler button. It's that little white blob directly above the upper arrow of the vertical scroll bar. Remember to remove the Ruler when it's unused.

The reason first line and hanging indents are not found on the Ribbon is because they are best applied as part of a Style, and not through direct formatting. See Formatting with Styles.


As already noted, for indentation, tabs have been replaced by the alignment and indentation tools discussed above.

Tabs should also be considered obsolete for positioning text into rows and columns because tables offer far greater flexibility and convenience.

There is one job for which Tabs still rule: lining up columns of decimal numbers. Here's how to set up decimal tabs:

  1. Position the insertion point in the line where you want the tab (or select the lines where you want the tab if text has already been entered)
  2. Display the ruler (View Ruler tool, on top of vertical scroll bar)
  3. At the Ruler's far-left side the left Tab icon ( )
  4. Click the icon (three times) until it changes to a decimal tab ( )
  5. Click on the Ruler position where you want the Tab inserted
  6. Hit the Tab key: the insertion point moves to the selected position
  7. Enter a number, including decimal point
  8. Hit Enter and continue entering a column of numbers
  9. Numbers line up on decimal points

Bruce Miller, 2000, 2005, 2014

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