Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Changing Default Tab Stops.

Changing Default Tab Stops

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 2, 2017)


Normally, Word assumes that when you press this Tab key in a paragraph that you want to move the insertion point to the next half inch. This assumes, of course, that you have not set any tabs for the current paragraph. If you want to change the default tab stops for a document, you can do so as follows:

  1. Display the Home tab of the ribbon.
  2. Click the icon at the bottom-right of the Paragraph group. Word displays the Paragraph dialog box.
  3. Click the Tabs button. Word displays the Tabs dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Tabs dialog box.

  5. Change the value in the Default Tab Stops control. You can change it in .01-inch increments, from 0.01 inches to 22 inches.
  6. Click on OK.

Remember that the change you make affects the current document and only those paragraphs that don't have any explicit tab stops set.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (7067) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Changing Default Tab Stops.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is 3 + 3?

2018-02-21 14:34:25


To permanently change open normal.dotm in MSWord and apply same technique of changing default tab. Then save the normal.dotm doc. All new docs using the normal template will keep the desired tab spacing.

2017-02-02 13:59:15

Peter Kirkpatrick

@Frank, and others: The general process for changing defaults for all documents is to edit templates. All documents in Word are derived from an existing template - either the Normal template, or a custom designed template. So for instance if you want all your documents to have a new tab setting, then you will change the tab setting in the underlying template, not your current document. All future documents will then have the new setting.

(How to do that is described elsewhere on this site and on other sites.)

2016-04-03 07:31:06

Frank Bonadonna

Dear Mr. Wyatt,

I routinely use 1/4" tabs vice the Word default of 1/2". Every Word document I create I must reset the default tab setting. I have not been able to find a way to make 1/4" tabs the standard for all Word documents I create. Is there a way to change the default for all documents as you can easily do in WordPerfect?

Your help is greatly appreciated. Also, may I comment that your article is well done - clear, concise and easy to follow. Thank you.

2015-05-06 17:55:55


Greg: You and I have a different definition of "default." You apparently want to set the default for all documents, whereas I specifically say (at the end of the first paragraph in the article) "...if you want to change the default tab stops for a document...".

I also suggest reading the last paragraph in the article.


2015-05-06 17:33:40




It merely changes the tabs for the current document.

2013-09-26 17:17:56

Frank in Spokane

PS: If anything, shouldn't all of the doc's text align according to the "Alignemnt" button in the "Tabs" dialog? Because it simply stays center-aligned, regardless of which "Alignment" button is selected.

One more thing: I *am* able to "undo" the alignment glitch.

2013-09-26 17:13:10

Frank in Spokane

I am using Word 2007 to work on a document that was written by somebody else. I don't know what version of Word he used.

The ruler shows a continuous row of little gray dashes in the narrow blue margin just below the white section showing the ruler's increments. I think they are default tab stops that are set to 0.01 inches apart, but I cannot make them go away.

This is because, when I merely click the "Tabs..." button in the "Paragraph" group, the text throughout my entire document suddenly becomes center-aligned.

My hunch is that this issue is due to some unpatched incompatibility between the Word version with which the document was originally created and my version.

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