Why Using Spaces To Line Up Text Is A Bad Idea

By: Rafael Van Dyke

With typewriters being almost a thing of the past, you would think that the typewriter mentality would go along with it. But old habits due die hard; and there’s one that makes me cringe every time I see it – lining up row of text with the spacebar.

This worked very well with typewriters and even most word processors because you could count every character (including the space) to be exactly the same size. For example, let’s say you wanted to create 4 rows of text divided into three columns. You would start off by simply typing the text you wanted in the first column and then hit the spacebar repeatedly until you got to where wanted the next column of text, and repeat these steps for the third column of text. For the next 3 rows, you would press enter, type your first block of text and hit the spacebar again until you were in the same spot that the previous 2nd column started, and the same with the 3rd column.

This technique stills works in today’s word processing programs, as long as you continue to use fixed width fonts like Courier or Courier New. There’s the catch, you typically won’t use fixed width fonts to type your documents with. Instead, you’ll be using TrueType fonts like Times New Roman and Arial where each character size is different; therefore, the old spacing technique will never work. Don’t be lazy and settle for jagged alignments; learn the new and improved techniques to line up text.



Using the Default Tab Stops
The simple way to line text is to use the default tab stops that are set with every new document (typically every half inch). You would use the same technique as before, except you would hit the tab key instead of the spacebar. Using the tab key actually gets you to your spot a lot faster and you don’t have worry about lining up text because the tab stops are in exactly the same place on every line.

Creating Your Own Tab Stops
Creating tab stops in your document is not a new technique. You can actually create tab stops on a typewriter; but it was considered an advanced technique, so only expert typists used them. The concept is still the new, but Microsoft Word makes a lot easier to create them. To create your own tab stops, simply click in the bottom half of the Ruler Bar where you want them each of them set. You’ll know it’s set when you see an “L" in the ruler bar. After they’re all set, you only have to hit the tab key once and it will automatically go the next stop. If you need to make a change to any tab stop location, just click and drag the “L" along the ruler; you can also click and drag the “L" off the ruler to remove a tab stop.

Changing the Tab Alignment
The tab stops we’ve discussed so far have all been aligned to left. You can change them from left tabs to either center, right, or decimal tabs (good for aligning numbers with a decimal in them). To do so, simply click on the box directly to the left of the ruler bar that has an “L" in it; each time you click, the symbol changes to a different tab alignment. However, this technique is the hardest to learn and to manage. There’s a better to creating lists with different alignments.

The Best Technique – A Table
Using a table is by far the best way to create any type of list you want. You simply create a table with the number of columns and rows that you need, adjust the column widths by clicking and dragging the column lines, and just type your text in each cell. You can change the alignment by simply using the alignment buttons you normally would for a paragraph. The added advantage of tables is being able to format them with borders and shading. Typically the top row would contain your headings, which you could format with bold text and a gray background. If you don’t need any special formatting, simply highlight the table and remove all the borders and shading.

Either way, using a table will be easier to maintain than any other technique. But any technique is better than trying to use the spacebar. If you haven’t alreadyComputer Technology Articles, for your own good … please break this habit!

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