Keeping Things Organized: Tab Stops
One of the simplest and most useful tools I have learned about, yet find very few people using, is tab stops in word processors. Resumes/CVs, presentations, putting together forms for people to fill out, or just about any other type of document you may create can benefit from tab stops.
The purpose of tab stops is to do the very thing that arguably frustrates people the most when they are trying to format a document: making things line up properly.
If you look at my CV, you'll see that everything is lined up and consistent throughout. It's not due to patiently adding spaces and tabs, but by putting tab stops in place so everything lines up perfectly with no effort (and stays lined up, even as I add/remove things).
There are several different tab stops, but I want to highlight the four main ones I use (which are demonstrated in the image at the top of this page): left stop, center stop, right stop, and decimal stop.
First, to find the tab stops you open up a word processor like MS Word. Make sure that the ruler is showing. With the ruler showing, look in the upper left corner where the two rulers (vertical and horizontal) meet:
The icon in that box represents the current tab stop you have selected. By default, it should be the left tab stop (which is shown in the picture). Here are all of the different tab stops:
The name of each stop describes how the text will be lined up with the stop. As you can see in the image at the top of this post, text will line up so its left side is against the left stop, its right side is against the right stop, it will center around a center stop, and any values with a decimal will have the decimal point line up with the decimal stop. (The decimal stop, though it may seem less useful, is incredibly helpful for formatting values in tables; you can use Ctrl+Tab to insert a tab inside a table cell).
To insert a tab stop into a document, first make sure the tab stop you want is displaying (to switch between them, just click on the box where they are shown and it will cycle through them). Then, put your cursor on the bottom half of the top ruler and click where you want to place the tab stop. It should show up, and you'll see a vertical dotted line while holding down the mouse on the tab stop (so you can visually line things up more easily). You can drag-and-drop the tab stop anywhere along the ruler.
Once a tab stop is in place, then go to the document and have the cursor to the left of the tab stop you want, then simply press tab. The cursor will jump straight to the place where you put the tab stop, and the text will line up in the appropriate way!
If you want to remove a tab stop, simply click-and-drag the tab stop off of the top ruler and it will disappear.
You can have multiple tab stops on the same line, so you can have text lined up in different ways (e.g., have a couple of left tab stops to space information out nicely, then a right tab stop to make the last piece of information line up with the margin.
Again, using tab stops will keep your text lined up even as you change things around, so you never need to worry about re-spacing!
This post just scratches the surface of what you can do with tab stops and other word processor formatting tools. These tools really do not take long to master, and they drastically decrease the amount of time you spend on formatting while dramatically improving the overall appearance of your documents.
To see a video demonstration, I recommend watching some YouTube videos like this.
If you want a document that uses tab stops so you can play around with it, or if you just want a template to use for creating a CV in the same style as mine, just go to my resources page and download the blank CV template I've made available!
Do you struggle with formatting something in word processors and want to know if there is an easier way to do it? Let me know in the comments, and I'll try to write a post to help you out!