How to align text using tabs in Google Docs


Learn how to use tab stops, not spaces, to control horizontal alignment of text in Google Docs.

Spaces and tabs both add distance between characters in a Google Doc. By default, each tap of the tab key advances your cursor to the nearest half-inch mark in a Google Doc, and every press of the space bar adds the self-descriptive space between letters. The actual space added, however, will vary depending on the font and font size. A fixed-width, or monospace, font consists of characters all of equal width, while other fonts include characters of different widths.

When you want to align text horizontally to a specific spot in your document, you’ll want to use custom tab stops. For example, you might use a center tab stop to align years in a position. If you were to use spaces, any change to the text in the line–or any modification of the font size–might disrupt your carefully spaced content. Use a tab stop, instead of spaces, whenever you wish to horizontally align text in a Google Doc, as described below.

SEE: Google Sheets: Tips and tricks (TechRepublic download) 

Note: While existing tab stops properly align and display text within the Google Docs mobile apps on Android and iOS, you’ll need to access Docs in a desktop-class browser to create and/or edit tab stops.

How to add a tab stop in a Google Doc

1. Activate the ruler. Choose View | Show Ruler to toggle the display of rulers in a Google Doc (Figure A). This setting controls rulers that appear both above the top of the document and to the left of the document.

Figure A

How to make your Google Docs easier to read using indents and spacing for more details). There’s no equivalent to custom tab stops that will allow you to align text to a vertical position on a page. A click on the side ruler displays only one option: The ability to toggle the display of the ruler off.

If you want precise control over the placement of text on a page, you might explore a page layout program, such as Adobe InDesign (Windows and macOS), Affinity Publisher (macOS), Lucidpress (web), Microsoft Publisher (Windows), QuarkXPress (Windows and macOS), or Scribus (open source and on multiple platforms). These all allow you to control placement and alignment of text and images with greater precision than a word processing program.

Your experience?

Do you use tab stops in Google Docs often? If so, what types of content do you seek to align–numbers, text, dates, tables? For more advanced control over placement, what page layout app do you use? Let me know, either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber). 

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