alignments, paragraph indentation options, and the use of tabs to align decimal numbers">
The Hermit Hermit's Free Library  MS-Word

This article covers horizontal text alignments and indentation, vertical page alignments, and decimal number alignment using tabs.

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.

Graphic that summarizes the appearance and uses for left, center, and right text alignment

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.

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:

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 ribbons and menus until 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 the selected text is centered, Word automatically puts it on a page by itself. Text that was before or after the selected text gets pushed to the pages before and after the vertically-aligned page.

Paragraph Indentation

First important rule is 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 superseded 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.

Here we see the two types of paragraph indentation, first-line indentation, and hanging line indentation:

A graphic that shows first-line and hanging line paragraph indentation

Showing first line and hanging line indentation with increased left indentation:

Graphic showing appearance of first-line and hanging line indentation with increased left indent

Showing first line and hanging line indentation with increased right indentation:

Graphic showing appearance of first-line and hanging line indentation with increased right indent

Now showing increased left and right indentation for first line and hanging line indentation:

Graphic showing appearance of first-line and hanging line indentation with increased right and left indent

Applying Indentation

There are several ways to apply indentation formatting to paragraphs:

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