How to find what is making my right tabs disappear
December 24, 2016 8:32 PM   Subscribe

I am learning all things tab & hanging indent related. I am following a tutorial for this ( When I attempt to right align by selecting a paragraph and adding a right tab, the tab is ghosted out and will not stay.

When I unselect the paragraph the tabs reappear. Experimenting with placing the cursor in different places all over the paragraph showed different tabs. I put on the show/hide backwards P but it didn't show anything odd. The help my friend asked for was rude and said 'you word people don't need to know these things' Well, yes obviously we do to make a real clean document. Ideas and fixes? Is it just easier to start a new document? Having the pre-formatted page to go with the video was very helpful. I hope this is clear. This is as far as Mars to me.
posted by intrepid_simpleton to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Which application are we talking about?
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:30 AM on December 25, 2016

Is it this MS Word tutorial: Word 2016: Indents and Tabs? A couple of things I've noticed:
  • Make sure you are following the tutorial version for exactly the same version of Word that you are using. GCF Learn Free offers six different variants for all the different versions of Office, and file formats have changed subtly between some of them.
  • While my tabs don't grey-out, it does seem to matter that the text cursor isn't at the start of the line when setting tab positions vs. hanging indents.

posted by scruss at 2:33 AM on December 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

If it's Word, it comes with styles already defined for hanging indents. Since 1985 I have avoided redefining Word's built-in styles--the software clings tightly to their original format. (I know this seems superstitious but I've successfully published several books in Word.)

Instead: create a new style that's just what you want. Make a new paragraph and copy 10 words of random text into it. Leave your cursor in the new paragraph. Set the left & right margins, as well as the negative first line indent. Create the tabs you desire. Now create a style "hang ind 1" (the dialogs for style creation depend on the version). Go back and put your cursor anywhere in the troublesome paragraph and apply "hang ind 1". It should conform to the style you've just created.

Use styles for everything!
posted by Jesse the K at 7:25 AM on December 25, 2016

I'm talking about Word 2013, and it I'll try making a new style. Jesse the K I don't know enough about it yet to fully understand "apply hang ind 1" but your answer seems sensible.
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 8:21 AM on December 25, 2016

A tab is greyed out because it is in effect for only part of the selection. Try selecting the entire paragraph, removing all tabs, and starting over. Styles, as Jesse the K said, keep you from having to reinvent the wheel multiple times.
posted by davcoo at 10:38 AM on December 25, 2016

davcoo: Unfortunately, I've already done that to the point of "the definition of insanity" (i.e. doing the same thing over & over and expecting different results.)
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 6:13 PM on December 25, 2016

I am learning all things tab & hanging indent related.... When I attempt to right align by selecting a paragraph and adding a right tab, the tab is ghosted out and will not stay.

Maybe this will help... First off, you sound like you might be conflating some terms, so the text below treats tab, indent, block indent, and right align separately. Second, in addition to defining styles there are typically at least one other way to handle these formats: the ruler, buttons that appear on the ribbon, and topic-specific drop down menus. Third, whenever a characteristic applies to an entire paragraph (whether via styles or any other method), think of it as residing in the paragraph marker. When you make a new paragraph, it will be identical to the previous one.

  • Right Align - Alignment here refers to whether the paragraph is left justified (flush left) with a ragged edge, right justified (flush right) with a ragged edge, centered, or fully justified where both the left and right sides are straight. To define what kind of justification should apply to a paragraph, you can mark the paragraph and hit the appropriate button or The buttons for these three characteristics are found on the paragraph section of the home tab on the ribbon. They feature horizontal lines that are justified as described above.

    Now that you've found the paragraph section of the home tab on the ribbon, note the tiny box in the bottom right corner. Click that and the paragraph sub menu will appear, which allows you to define your desired justification type.

  • Block Indent - Block indents are appropriate for, say, offsetting a quote from some other source. You can block indent from the left, from the right, or both. The buttons for these functions are also found in the paragraph area. They look like horizontal lines interrupted by a large arrow coming in from either the right or left. As with Alignment, you can also set your preferences using the paragraph sub menu, accessed as described above.

  • Right Tabs There are several types of tabs: left, center, right, and decimal. Since you asked about right tabs, think of them as being used in single line paragraphs, perhaps because you're making a program with titles on the left side and names right justified on the right. Decimal tabs are similar, useful for aligning prices as on a menu (I can't remember if Word 2013 has decimal tabs or not, but right tabs work for this purpose as well).

    There are two ways to set tabs: via the horizontal ruler or via the paragraph sub-menu. If you look at the paragraph sub-menu, you'll see a button at the bottom left corner labeled "Tabs" which leads to an area where you can set your preferences using measurements. You can also assign a dot leader which can be nice to draw the eye from left to right. This menu also allows you to set tabs at regular intervals. That's not recommended because it creates confusing clutter; if you need to make many columns, consider using a table instead of a bunch of tabs.

    And then there's the ruler. To see the ruler, be sure the ruler box is checked. It can be found under the "View" tab on the Ribbon. The ribbon shows the side margins in grey and the active area in white. Now that you see the ribbon, look at the little box to the left. By clicking on it you can cycle through the various types of tabs. When you set the box to the one you want, you can then insert that type of tab wherever you want it on the ruler. You can also eliminate superfluous tabs by dragging them into the grey area.

    Regardless of how you set your tabs, every time you hit the Tab button you will proceed one tab to the right. So if you are at the far left and want to reach your right tab you may have to click the Tab button a few times to move your cursor through intervening tabs before you reach it.

  • First Line Indents, Left Indents, Right Indents, and Hanging Indents - The ruler also offers an easy way to define First Line Indents (e.g., if you want the first line of the sentence to start some distance in), Left Indents (every other line in the paragraph), Right Indents (the right edge of the paragraph) and Hanging Indents (typically for bullets or numbered lists). In all cases you can move these characteristics by dragging the small grey symbols. The First Line Indent resembles a small grey downward pointer that is found on the left side; the Right Indent looks the same but is on the right side. The Left Indent is a small grey square. The Hanging Indent is a small grey upward pointer. These characteristics can also be defined using the Paragraph submenu.

    Obviously you can use these tools as another vehicle to establish block indents.

    In general, Google is your friend. There are many YouTube videos showing how to use these formatting tools as well. The more you play with it, the more sense it will make, but it's definitely a process. Good luck!

  • posted by carmicha at 7:10 PM on December 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I got written up for not knowing these; technically for the document not looking as they thought it should (they were right). I don't believe I ever misrepresented my Word abilities, but now I have to get up to speed and faster than yesterday. And I must not be doing google right -- not finding a ton of help there. But it is getting clearer the more I do it.
    posted by intrepid_simpleton at 7:23 PM on December 25, 2016

    Third, whenever a characteristic applies to an entire paragraph (whether via styles or any other method), think of it as residing in the paragraph marker. When you make a new paragraph, it will be identical to the previous one.

    OK, I admit to being completely lost.

    Also, what do you mean by sub-menus?

    Trust me, I'm not going to get mad if you talk to me like I'm five.
    posted by intrepid_simpleton at 7:49 PM on December 25, 2016

    Regarding the paragraph marker, when you hit Enter (kinda like a carriage return), to signify the end of a paragraph, there will be a symbol that looks like a backwards P. However, you can only see this and other formatting marks if you choose to do so by clicking this sequence: File:Options:Display and then choosing accordingly.

    Regarding sub-menus, here I just mean further down in the hierarchy. So I refer repeatedly to the Paragraph submenu, which you access via the following sequence: 1) Click the home tab. 2) Find the area labeled "Paragraph." 3) Click on the little arrow square in the bottom right corner; 4) see the pop-up box that allows you to establish various characteristics as discussed in my original comment.
    posted by carmicha at 8:07 PM on December 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

    Indents, alignment and tabs are called _paragraph_ attributes, because these attributes apply to whole paragraphs.

    *Alignment aligns all text in a paragraph (types: Left, Right, Center, Justified).
    *Left and right indent determines the left and right boundaries of the paragraph, and a hanging indent determines the indent of the first line of the paragraph.
    *A tab applies to whatever text is to the left of a tab on the line where your text cursor is, when you press the Tab key. Tabs are meant for aligning multiple small bits of text. Since you can have more than one tab on a line, you could tabulate a list of information about books like this: Title, (left tab) author, (decimal tab) price, (right tab) year. In this way you can form nicely spaced and aligned columns of information.

    By way of contrast, character attributes, like font name, font color, etc., only apply to spans of characters, not whole paragraphs, and so those attributes are applied to each individual character.

    Now this is really important: paragraph attributes are stored, in Microsoft Word and LibreOffice documents, in the invisible "paragraph" character which trails a paragraph. This is the "backwards P" character described above. When you create that non-printing character by pressing the return key, the following paragraph copies the paragraph attributes from the paragraph above. But if you erase that special character, the paragraph below joins the paragraph above and inherits its paragraph attributes. This is important to understand because it is not intuitive (one might guess that paragraph attributes are stored in the first character of a paragraph, not the last, and indeed some other word processors work that way).

    As has been said, in the future, you should try to use template documents with pre-defined styles, which is just easier and more consistent. Using styles, you can define various paragraphs with differing left and right indents and hanging indents, various types of alignment and line spacing, and predefined tabs if needed. You can even define a "next" style, so a 'Paragraph' style naturally follows a 'Header' style, etc. Perhaps it goes without saying, but never try to align things using the space bar. And the tab key is only for tabs in the text ruler, not for hanging indents.

    Hope this helps!
    posted by jabah at 9:42 PM on December 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

    How's your document coming along, i_s?
    posted by carmicha at 7:32 AM on December 28, 2016

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