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July 20, 2012

Writing IT Resumes with Word 2010 Part 2: Tab Stops

By Writing IT Resumes with Word 2010

Resume Writing for IT Professionals

A note from the author: Over the past year, this series of resume writing articles has focused mostly on resumes from a large-scale perspective, taking a conceptual rather than how-to approach. For this series, though, we deal with step-by-step technical matters that will simplify your resume writing process. This article, and others in the series, assumes that you’re using MS Word 2010. We hope you find it useful.

One of the most irritating parts of working with a resume involves alignment. For the sake of both professional appearance and accessibility, it is conventional for similar parts of a resume to all line up along the same vertical axis, so that all the bullet points line up with one another, all the headers, and all the sections. If you don’t know some of the typography shortcuts, you run into situations where some of your bullet points don’t quite line up, or where you have a lot of empty spaces that complicate editing and revising.

With that in mind, here are a few tips about MS Word 2010 that will greatly simplify your use of alignment, and the way you design your resume.

First a note about how tab stops work: whenever you hit the TAB key on your keyboard, the cursor moves to a specific, predetermined point of alignment on a document (known as a tab stop). In most documents, the default tab stop will be set to the indentation of a standard business letter paragraph. Using the tab key, as opposed to simply hitting space bar repeatedly, will automatically simplify formatting. But you can also adjust the tab stop itself, so you can set up alignment to anywhere you want it to be.

Before that, though, there are few things you need to do to prepare the interface.

PREPARATION STEP ONE: Turn on the setting for paragraph marks and symbols

You can do this by clicking the paragraph symbol icon in the paragraph section of the Home tab. Enabling the feature lets you see previously hidden formatting symbols, like spaces between characters, paragraph breaks, and page breaks. If you ever want to verify your layout choices, it’s a good feature to temporarily enable.

Blog 2 Paragraph Symbol

Paragraph Symbol

PREPARATION STEP TWO: Make sure that the ruler is view-able

The ruler lets you see tab stops and work with other alignment features, and can be revealed by checking the box marked ruler, which can be found in the Show section of the View tab on the MS Word ribbon.

Blog 2 Ruler Image One

Blog 2 Ruler Image Two


Anyway, back to tab stops. There are three basic types: a left tab stop (which aligns text to the left of the tab) a right tab stop (which aligns it to the right) and my personal favorite, a center tab stop, which aligns text coming out from the center of wherever you place the tab stop. You can adjust these by clicking on the tab icon found in the upper right hand corner.

Blog 2 Tab Stop Icon

Tab Stop Icon

Tab stops are set according to individual lines, not the document as a whole. You can therefore add stops to any single point on the ruler or for any number of lines (or even add multiple stops per line) and the document’s total layout will remain unaffected.

To add a tab stop, simply place your cursor on the line of text you wish to adjust, and then click on the ruler wherever you want your tab to be. When you hit tab on that line at any point throughout editing, your text will immediately be aligned with that position on the ruler.

A few other notes about tab stops:

  • If you don’t like where a tab stop is, you can click and drag it along the ruler to relocate it.
  • To delete a tab stop, simply click on it and then drag it out of frame of the ruler.
  • To change the type of tab from within the ruler, simply double-click on the tab stop itself. This will bring up the Tabs dialogue box.
  • Adding a center tab stop to the top line of text is especially useful for formatting header and contact information (if you aren’t using the document’s actual header, that is).
  • It is possible to assign a customized tab stop to multiple lines of text simultaneously. You just need to select the lines of text you want impacted first. This can be especially useful if you’re working with multiple lines of bullet points.
  • Clicking on a tab stop will show a vertical dotted line. You can follow this line down the document to make sure that all parts of the text you want line up with one another.

To summarize, here are some step-by-step instructions.


  1. Right-click the paragraph symbol icon in the paragraph section of the Home tab. This will show hidden formatting symbols, making tab variations or deficiencies easier to spot.
  2. Reveal the ruler by selecting this option in the Show section of the View tab.
  3. Put the cursor on the line of text where you want the tab stop to appear, or select the range of lines you want to be impacted by the tab stop.
  4. Select the kind of tab stop you want to use by clicking on the tab stop icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen (aligned with the vertical and horizontal rulers).
  5. Click tab on the line or line of text you want to impact to align it with the tab stop.

Next in Part 3 we will go over Bullet Points in Resumes, and be sure to check out 3 Time Saving Tips for Microsoft Word.

About the Author

teaches professional and technical writing at DePaul University in Chicago. His work has appeared in a variety of journals, and he is the author of the following Pluralsight Courses: Fundamentals of Written Proposals; Writing Process Instructions and Directions; and Resumes, Research, and Writing on the Job Hunt.

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