Tabs are useful in a few ways, so it is worth taking a moment to learn how to use them. Originally tabs were a mechanical setting on typewriters that moved the platen a defined distance. One use was for the paragraph indents, but we have already done that in the paragraph style we created. Another use was to create columns in the text, but that is better done in word processors with invisible tables. But there is one thing that Tabs can do really well, and that is to create nicely aligned dotted lists for things like Tables of Contents, Invoices, etc. They would look like this:
To do this you need to create a new style. In my case I called it “Tab dot leader full”. This means it uses a tab setting, incorporates a dot leader, and is full width on a normal page. To do this, make sure you have your Style window open, right click on it, and select New. On the Organizer tab, I gave it the name, and said that I wanted to follow such a tab with another one. That makes sense because when you are using this type of tab it is usually for a list of items. Remember you can always select another style when you are finished with the list. For Indents and Spacing I didn’t need to make any changes, for Alignment I left it at left aligned, and for Font I selected the same font as I use for my paragraphs, which is Liberation Serif 12pt. Then I went to the Tabs tab, where I created the tab setting. Here I selected a position of 7″, a type of right, and a fill character of dots, as seen on this screenshot of the Tabs tab.
So, what do each of these things mean? The type means how the resulting tab is going to be aligned. By selecting right I am sending the number I entered all the way to the right. Then position says to put it 7″ from the beginning of the entry. Since my entry began left aligned right on the left margin of the page, it takes 7″ to go all the way to the right. I might have calculated that, but in fact the ruler above the page told me everything I needed to know:
Finally, selecting the dots as the fill character filled in everything between my text on the left and my number on the right with a row of dots.
Now, what if you want to create a list of these tabs that does not go all the way across the page? I will illustrate this with a tab that is indented 1″ on either side. Again, I right click on the Style screen and select New. On the Organizer tab, I gave it the name Tab dot leader indented. To get the effect I want, I only need to make two changes to what I did on the full width tabs, one for each side. To move it in one inch on the left, I go to the Indents and Spacing tab and set the Indent Before text to be 1″. Then to get an equal change on the other side I go back to the Tabs tab, and here I set the position to 5″. Remember that the position setting measures the position of the tab stop from where the entry began. Since I indented it by 1″, I had to take that into account, and set the position for the net distance of 5″. That gives me a tab list like this:
You may not need to do this often, but if you regularly create invoices, for instance, this is a great technique. I have seen people try to get this effect by relentlessly pressing the period key, then trying to get everything to line up, and the fact is that getting things to line up in a proportionally spaced font will never happen. This technique not only saves time and trouble, it always lines up everything perfectly and gives you a professional look.
Listen to the audio version of this post on Hacker Public Radio!