by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 12, 2020)
Patsy has a document that has headers and footers in it. Each has information at three places: left, centered, and right. If she later changes the margins of the document, the previously centered portion is no longer centered. (The center-aligned tab was set based upon the old line width, which is no longer valid after the margin change.) Patsy wonders if there is a way to set up the header or footers so that the centered information remains centered, even if she needs to change margins.
The traditional way to solve this problem is to put a three-celled, single-row table in the header or footer. You can put text in the left, center, and right cells and then format or align that text any way you like within the cell. As long as the table width is set to 100%, it will adjust automatically to any changes in the overall line width.
Starting with Word 2007, however, there is an even better way to get the desired result: through the use of alignment tabs. Follow these steps:
Figure 1. The Alignment Tab dialog box.
If you have non-printing characters visible on your screen, you'll notice that Word displays the alignment tab using the familiar arrow character it normally uses for tabs. While alignment tabs, in this respect, look like regular tabs, they are very different. Regular tabs are set at a particular distance from the left margin, while alignment tabs are set at a relative position (left, center, or right) to both margins. This means that if you later make a formatting change that adjusts those margins (such as Patsy did), change paper size, or even change from portrait to landscape orientation, the alignment tabs adjust the information that follows them relative to the margin change. This is very powerful!
I noted that if you have non-printing characters visible then alignment tabs look like regular tabs. If you need (for some reason) to determine whether a tab character is a normal tab or an alignment tab, one way to do so is to try deleting it. Position the insertion point just to the left of the tab character and press the Delete key. If the tab disappears, then it was a regular tab. If the symbol for the tab character (the arrow) is, instead, simply selected, then that is an alignment tab.
Since alignment tabs were introduced in Word 2007, they are only viable in documents saved in the DOCX or DOCM formats (or templates saved in the newer file format). If you are working on a document using the older DOC file format or you are working in compatibility mode, then alignment tabs have no efficacy—they are treated as regular tabs.
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