Scott Hanselman

VIDEO: Do you really know how to use Microsoft Word? The Power of Tabs and Indents

January 24, '15 Comments [75] Posted in Musings
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I spent part of my lunch hour today remoted into a friend's computer who was having a lot of trouble with Microsoft Word. Like most of you she's an "experience Word user" and would happily put "Proficient in Microsoft Word" on her resume. However, it was pretty clear that there's some powerful aspect to Word that folks aren't exploiting. These kinds of features will save you HOURS reformatting documents later, especially when those docs get long like books and long reports or essays.

I figured I'd do a quick YouTube video and see if there's an interested in a series of these. I like not to waste time OR keystrokes so this was the most efficient way to get the information out there. Within an hour this video already got these nice compliments:

  • Absolutely fantastic. This totally blew my mind. I'm not too proud to say that I didn't know any of this.
  • Thanks so much. You just saved me a ton of time editing lab documents.
  • Time to update my resume and this time the indents will be perfect.
  • This video is magic.

So that's telling me that there IS value in videos like this. Check it out and let me know! More importantly, share it with your family and friends and SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel.

TIP: If you're using Windows 8 and are confused, I have a whole SERIES of videos at Please spread the word and share!

Here's my Word video. Hope this helps.

Microsoft Word: The Power of Tabs and Indents

What Office related topics would you be interested in seeing, done in this style?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015 1:19:57 AM UTC
Great video! However, aside from tabs/indents and aligning stuff with spaces etc. what bothers and annoys me even more is people don't get the concept of paragraphs, line breaks and page-breaks. So each time they insert a line somewhere all text after that needs to be reformatted so that pagebreaks happen at actual page breaks etc. What you demonstrate in your video is one, or maybe even two steps beyond that basic principle.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 2:19:47 AM UTC
YAY! Thank you for this, Scott. Quite a few tricks in there I didn't realize I was doing wrong. I, for one, am in full support of more videos like this. I would LOVE you to do one on TOCs.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 2:55:46 AM UTC
Thank you for hitting some of my pet peeves. I hope this educates lots of users and I would love to see more of these - I'll recommend them to some students and colleagues.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 3:14:31 AM UTC
You could do a whole series on how to make Word and Powerpoint templates work for you instead of against you. Too many people break the template making it difficult to clean up formatting and appearance.
Drew Robbins
Saturday, January 24, 2015 3:52:04 AM UTC
Hanselman, I'm a big fan of your videos, posts, opinions, etc! Great work!!
Rodrigo Ratan
Saturday, January 24, 2015 6:28:44 AM UTC
I have a hard time getting people to do two things: use styles (especially if I have already set them up) and use cross references whenever referencing a figure/table/another section. Those two things make working with large documents worlds easier.

An explanation, just like the space bar is not the "make horizontal white space button", of how the return key is not the "make vertical white space button" is also a valuable lesson for folks.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 7:18:31 AM UTC
Nowadays all people are using Word more or less, it's a great editor and it's very popular thing. But we have a problem that you described in this video: people just don't know how to use it in right way, they just don't learn how to use it. That's the point. They know some basic intuitive stuff and that's all.

Easy tricks can save you a lot of time and increase your knowledge. It's a very useful for many people. Please, continue these videos!
Saturday, January 24, 2015 7:57:39 AM UTC
When I brag about how Jedi I'm with Word (since I work a lot with validation documents) I use the Format Painter tool. And people is like mind blown! Great video!
Saturday, January 24, 2015 8:33:29 AM UTC
Very educational Hanselman! I did not know any of that. Please give us more!!
Ernest Fakudze
Saturday, January 24, 2015 10:46:29 AM UTC
Thanks, that is useful and I would appreciate more (particularly "section breaks" as I am sure I am misusing them.)

One question: You showed a nice easy way to move the tabs just by double-clicking them and getting the complete list of tabs with distance. Can the same be done for hanging/first-line/left indent? (As you said yourself, dragging them about is a little tricky sometimes.) Page setup isn't too hard to find, but double-clicking somewhere to bring it up quickly without hunting through ribbons, etc., would be better.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 12:31:29 PM UTC
I really didn't think I was going to learn anything from this, however, I gave up playing with the indentation on the ruler years ago (Word 97 maybe?) after messing up too many documents, now I actually know what they are for and how to use them - usually I just avoid complex formatting in Word.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 12:50:00 PM UTC
Nice Video. I have a lot of discussions with people about using Word. Your explanation is great! I will share this video and hopefully you will make some more about more detail in Word.
Judith School
Saturday, January 24, 2015 1:54:21 PM UTC

Great Video. Just a quick note regarding YouTube Safety mode. Not sure of the reason but I had to turn safety mode off to watch this video.

Here is screen pic of the message:

Saturday, January 24, 2015 2:40:48 PM UTC
Hey Scott, what software are you using for screencasting here?
Briton Zurcher
Saturday, January 24, 2015 2:51:15 PM UTC
I hamfist Word and Excel all the time, with no time to take a proper course.

This was the perfect length and level of detail.

I've just finished mangling a spec in Word that used tables for database schema descriptions (horribly). I'm also pretty sure I'm using change tracking wrong.

Show me the way! Thanks Scott!
Saturday, January 24, 2015 2:54:47 PM UTC
Please do advanced Numbering and bullets, headers (e.g. H1, H2, H3) and basic document navigation topics.

For example:

1. This is Section One and shows in document navigation as header 1.

[some normal style paragraph here...]

1.1 This is Section One dot one and shows in document navigation as header 2.

[some normal style paragraph here...]

1.2 This is Section One dot two and shows in document navigation as header 2.

[some normal style paragraph here...]

Another example is using line numbers in such a way that a legal document would have.

Thanks in advance!
Saturday, January 24, 2015 3:06:49 PM UTC
Great video! Please do more!
Saturday, January 24, 2015 3:29:20 PM UTC
Nicely explained. Could you also post some videos on excel as well.
Subhasis Rout
Saturday, January 24, 2015 4:18:10 PM UTC
While I did know about all of these features in Word and have used them, this was a very well done video. One thing I always have trouble with is balanced columns of bullets. These are especially useful for resumes to allow you to convey more information in less space. But, I usually resort to using tables to achieve this effect. Do you have any better solution for balanced columns of bullets?
Craig D.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 4:46:37 PM UTC
Great video! Sadly, this is a much needed topic - this and a lot of other things.

As others have already stated, the single-most annoying thing about people's abuse of Word is that they don't get the difference between a linebreak (Shift+Enter) and a paragraph break (Enter). They just press Enter twice. Which is absolutely horrible if you have to use that text for anything else (be it a web page or DTP).

Next on my list of pet peeves is the fact that people just format headings manually, instead of using styles. This happens because people don't realize that styles are tools for structuring the document as well as formatting it - they don't realize that a style can be changed to their liking. They don't like the Heading 1 style, so they just do it manually. And then proceed to generate a TOC for a 100-page document manually. And yes, I have seen university students do just that for their thesis.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 4:55:53 PM UTC
Thanks for this video. I would definitely be interested in more of these across the MS Office suite.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 4:57:08 PM UTC
Great video. Great ides for a series.
I hope to see you put out a video on how to incorporate and format images into a Word document.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 5:04:38 PM UTC
Wow, I knew that I needed to learn more about Word however this proved to me I have a long way to go. Please continue the series. I'm interested in the section and page breaks. I also use mailings and would appreciate knowing how to combine two field from Excel into one an example is addresses.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 5:11:01 PM UTC

This was great. I've been using Word for a long time and now realize there is so much more. Thanks for making the learning easy.

Saturday, January 24, 2015 6:55:16 PM UTC
Nice video. Thanks

I do a lot of documents, but I use Latex/MikTex/Texmaker for this because I can format things exactly like I want, i.e. placing graphics & figures, entering mathematical formulas, etc. Word is much more convenient, but every time I try to use Word for technical docs, I don't know enough I guess, I turn back to my tried and true tools.
Is it possible to write technical documents in Word? With the precision I need.

By the way, I then publish these documents/articles in journals, and they require the .tex files.

Saturday, January 24, 2015 7:49:26 PM UTC
Thanks for doing this Scott. Your videos are always useful. Please keep up the good work.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 8:13:24 PM UTC
I thought it was a great video.

Coming from Dev but now I'm a dark matter dev manager :) My friends sometimes jokingly call me a PowerPoint Developer or an Excel Developer, etc. sigh

Anyway, if there's anything I'm looking to do, I just find it somewhere on the web so I can't say there's anything I'm looking to know. It's what I don't know or "common mistakes" like the theme of this video that I'd like to see.

Saturday, January 24, 2015 9:19:35 PM UTC
Great video Scott. Definitely agree with the other comments to show how to use Styles/Templates properly for both Word and PowerPoint. I've seen PPT's 50+ MB in size because the person didn't know how to use these features.

btw, a series on Excel would also be awesome too.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 9:33:45 PM UTC
This is a great tutorial Scott. I learnt so much about what I have been doing wrong in Word. Thank you for doing this. I would like to learn more about using Word effectively and looking forward to further tutorials.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 10:24:21 PM UTC
Excellent video! I would love to see more videos on Word, especially on using styles and making a table of contents.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 10:26:08 PM UTC
Great stuff. Some help on positioning pictures would be very welcome!
Andre Heijstek
Saturday, January 24, 2015 10:29:24 PM UTC

Great video, thanks! I assumed I knew about all of this stuff, but the "right tab" was new to me!

One thing I seem to struggle with a bit (although I think I know at least the principle) is the use of outline view, and the relationship between indentation levels and pre-defined styles, etc.

Would love to see a video about that to show me what I'm missing!

Chris Roberts
Saturday, January 24, 2015 10:44:35 PM UTC
This is a great video. I thought I was the only one that disliked how people use Word incorrectly. I am also a user that always has the paragraph marks turned on. I am always going in and correcting other users documents so that they are not full of spaces to try and get things lined up. My other complaint is adding additional lines to get a paragraph to the next page. Put in a page break! More videos like this would be great to share with people who don't really now how to use the products correctly.
Saturday, January 24, 2015 11:50:46 PM UTC
Thanks! I always thought you had to use columns to get both left- and right-aligned text on one line, and I keep forgetting how to do that. Using tab-stops is a great alternative.
Bruce Williams
Sunday, January 25, 2015 1:38:37 AM UTC
Fantasticly helpful video! After all these years working in Word, I didn't know you could click the top left corner box to change the current tab setting!

My pet peeve in Word is how styling works, especially how to restyle documents that have been messed up. I want to believe that I'm a moderately competent Word user, but I find styling confusing and frustrating, especially when working on existing documents that need to be cleaned-up.
Sunday, January 25, 2015 2:05:30 AM UTC
Thanks Scott. I admit, I have never used right hand tabs in Word. Goes to show you can learn something new every day. A table of contents review would be helpful. It would be really embarrassing to go back and see some protocol specifications I wrote 25 years ago.
Brian K
Sunday, January 25, 2015 2:06:11 AM UTC
Hi Scott!
Good stuff! Like Rrenaud, I’d be interested in seeing how you use Styles, too.
Sunday, January 25, 2015 2:49:09 AM UTC
Great video. The only things I didn't realize was that you could change the type of tab you inserted by clicking on the button on the upper left and that you could actually grab and move the lower triangle (I guess I've never been coordinated enough to hit it :) ).

I edit a fan gaming magazine and have to fix these kinds of errors (among many others) all the time to get the submissions ready for inclusion. I'm going to link this from the magazine's website for my authors to have as a reference.
Tom Stephens
Sunday, January 25, 2015 5:49:41 AM UTC
Hi, I think it would be great if your video (and similar, short ones) could be included in Word's built-in F1 help system.
Sunday, January 25, 2015 4:44:14 PM UTC
As many as you can do!
Abner Piff
Sunday, January 25, 2015 5:45:12 PM UTC
I think this was a great video from which I learned a lot even though I would say I am a somewhat advanced user. The example you gave in your video is about a hypothetical person who claims to be an expert in Word which I would like to key off on for my comment.

I would argue that it is more important for someone to have proficient skills in creating good Html content instead of Word documents.

Therefore as an Html content creator myself, I would like to see a video on Live Writer. As an ASP.Net MVC developer, I would also appreciate a video on a good Markdown tool that I could use on my website. A good example is this interactive comments you provide with its Live Comment Preview capabilities.

Thanks, I appreciate your work.
Sunday, January 25, 2015 10:06:24 PM UTC
Excellent. Another thing many people don't know is how to tab within a Table cell. Ctrl-Tab people!
Sunday, January 25, 2015 10:25:54 PM UTC
Hi Scott, thanks for the video, very useful! Would indeed be happy to see more of this kind of content in future :)
Monday, January 26, 2015 7:56:08 AM UTC
Awesome stuff. Please bring more :)
Monday, January 26, 2015 9:08:26 AM UTC
@Dave Shaw "usually I just avoid complex formatting in Word."

This is just the point that Scott is trying to make - what you're actually doing is avoiding the correct use of formatting in Word. The result is that you end up with complex formatting.

Keep up the good work, Scott.
Bob Armour
Monday, January 26, 2015 11:11:41 AM UTC
Hi Scott, thanks for the video, it really helped a lot! Please make more of these :)
Monday, January 26, 2015 2:02:12 PM UTC
Bullet lists
Monday, January 26, 2015 2:15:34 PM UTC
And some of these videos for Visual Studio would be nice too :)
Monday, January 26, 2015 2:32:52 PM UTC
Thanks Scott. I've been using Word for many years. I re-learned a few things from you. My problem is habit and often being in a rush. When push comes to shove, I fall back to my habit. There are many bells and whistles in Word. Sometimes I use brute force to get what I want because doing the right thing is obscure or, in my mind, would take to long to figure out so I will just do it the bad way because I have to finish this document. Short videos, like yours, provide a nice refresher as to how I should be doing things. Hopefully, this will become habit for me.
Monday, January 26, 2015 6:09:27 PM UTC
Great video Scott. One pet peeve I have is receiving Word forms, where the form isn't formatted correctly. Places where there should be an input field, instead have a series of underscores to mark where we should "write in". If this is an online form, I should type in my information. If the form needs to support both electronic and printed, then the form field can be formatted with an underline.

Sometimes I go the extra mile and correct the document form fields, then send in the form electronically along with the updated template.
Terry Denham
Monday, January 26, 2015 7:03:46 PM UTC
I'd like a similar primer for Excel:
  • Simple Formatting

  • Basic Calculations

  • Dropdown Lists

  • Column Filters

  • Thanks for the tips!
    Jamy Ryals
    Monday, January 26, 2015 7:34:14 PM UTC
    Near the start you said, "A lot of folks are...confused about tables." I stayed around through the entire video, and I did learn how to use indents and different kinds of tabs much better. You didn't say a word about tables, however, which is a big confusion to me - especially modifying someone else's table.
    David Shirley
    Monday, January 26, 2015 8:06:56 PM UTC
    Wonderful! I wish I had discovered these tricks 10 years ago. Time to clean up the old resume, I guess.
    Monday, January 26, 2015 8:40:55 PM UTC
    Great video!

    Knew what they where and what they did.
    Just didn't knew yet how to use them properly.

    Love to see more videos.
    Monday, January 26, 2015 8:50:10 PM UTC
    Great video, Scott. Very useful.
    Monday, January 26, 2015 10:26:59 PM UTC
    Great video. Much appreciated.

    As a couple of folks have mentioned, I'd love to see in-depth treatment of section breaks (page and continuous), including headers and footers with breaks, as well as outlining / numbering / bullets - perhaps build up an outline / numbering hierarchy from scratch.
    Donnie Hale
    Monday, January 26, 2015 11:22:31 PM UTC
    Awesome video, Scott. Ashamed to say I know far more about Visual Studio than I've ever known about Word.

    Watching this video really makes you realize though that the Word UX could certainly use some work- it seems like in 2015 the software should be able to detect these extremely common mistakes in formatting and offer to fix them for you. It seems crazy at how little desktop Office has evolved in the last 15 years.
    Tuesday, January 27, 2015 1:10:55 AM UTC
    Hi Scott,

    Loved the video! As a developer, I make the mistake of assuming I know all there is to know about something like a word processor. In fact, there are many key fundamentals of the software, such as the indents you lay out here that, which I knew little or nothing about.

    Very much appreciated, please do more like this!
    Wednesday, January 28, 2015 3:41:23 AM UTC
    Good video Scott.. I haven't been using much of these features in word. Might be good if you start a video series based on different MS office topics.
    Wednesday, January 28, 2015 12:23:53 PM UTC
    Excellent video, I'd love to see more of these. I learned a lot. Thanks.
    Wednesday, January 28, 2015 8:29:31 PM UTC
    Great video Scott. I've battled with people not understanding Word for too long (since version 2). Just one thing, you show adding a tab stop to the hanging indent position. I've not found it necessary, just type the leading text then hit Tab and it will go to the hanging indent position.

    Would like to second the request by John Marsing for something on Markdown and Live Writer. I'm sure there's more than what's on the surface of both.

    Keep up the good work Scott.
    Roger Spencelayh
    Wednesday, January 28, 2015 9:00:52 PM UTC
    While super useful for way too many folks, watching it for me was like listening to fingernails on a chalk board. "Select multiple paragraphs and..." Uh... NO! If you have multiple paragraphs needing the same formatting rules applied, use a style!
    Thursday, January 29, 2015 4:32:47 AM UTC
    Nice. But doesn't it bother you that we use the archaic tab/space chars for formatting in our own code editors? It doesn't have to be that way forever. Nesting-level aware margins, word-wrap and hanging indents would be a start.
    Phil Fearon
    Thursday, January 29, 2015 8:48:50 PM UTC
    I passed this on to my colleagues at work. Great Video.
    Leo Ruane
    Sunday, February 01, 2015 4:07:21 PM UTC
    Great video, please do more for all items you listed by the end of this video
    Sunday, February 01, 2015 9:11:43 PM UTC
    Great tips. We love to have more.
    Wednesday, February 04, 2015 2:48:31 PM UTC
    Checkout SublimeText if you like hotkeys.
    Friday, February 06, 2015 3:09:36 PM UTC
    I watched your video and am now a convert for showing paragraph marks - it is a big help to creating well formatted docs. However, one complaint about it: the marks are black just like the text I'm writing. I can't seem to find any documentation on how to change the paragraph marks to another color (gray or silver would be nice) so that it is easier to read my text and ignore the marks. Is there some way to do this?
    Tuesday, February 10, 2015 12:28:10 AM UTC
    Wow! I learnt something new today. Very interesting. Looking forward to more Microsoft Word videos like this from Hanselman.
    Thursday, February 12, 2015 2:09:21 PM UTC
    Fantastic video! I learnt soo much. I'm definitely going to overhaul my CV and format it properly. I would definitely get some value out of some more video's like this to help me become an office ninja :)
    Chris Dunn
    Sunday, February 15, 2015 8:04:41 PM UTC
    That was a great video! Wish I'd known this stuff years ago, please, please do more.
    Wednesday, March 04, 2015 3:57:07 PM UTC
    If you don't mind me asking, how are you recording these videos?

    I have a bunch of training I need to give to developers and need someone that can record my screen and take a microphone input. It would be simple Visual Studio tutorials or a powerpoint presentation that I give to my department. It would be nice to capture my computer screen as I'm talking and then maybe have a video off to the side of me giving the presentation.
    Friday, March 06, 2015 6:23:41 PM UTC
    Great video! Love the way you present (and podcast)

    They say youtube, but actually youtube-better.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2015 5:50:26 PM UTC
    Holy cow that was freak'in GREAT! Thanks.
    Wednesday, April 01, 2015 5:26:09 PM UTC
    Thanks, please more of this!
    Comments are closed.

    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.