How to Use Ruler in Microsoft Word (with Examples!)

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Written By Chris

Just a simple "data guy". Changing the world one formula at a time.

Do you want to spend hours formatting your Word documents manually? Who does? Stop ignoring the obvious and use the ruler in Microsoft Word, which makes your life easier by helping you set margins, align objects, indent text, and much more. 

With the ruler, you will quickly learn about its numerous benefits, whether you’re a student, a professional, or someone who prefers Word over other text applications. The ruler is an indispensable tool that saves precious time for more crucial tasks, making your work with Word more efficient and enjoyable.

Let’s explore how to set up the Microsoft Word ruler and leverage its features to efficiently format your documents. And if you prefer a more visual approach, check out my video here!

Setting up the Microsoft Word Ruler

To get started with the ruler, begin by making it visible on your screen. If you don’t see it, navigate to the View tab and tick the box labeled “Ruler.”

show ruler in word

Now that the ruler is displayed let’s also ensure the vertical ruler is showing. In most cases, it will be, but your Word settings may be automatically preventing this. 

To show the vertical ruler, go to the File tab and select Options, then Advanced. Scroll down until you find the “Display” section, where you can check the box to “Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view.”

You can also customize your units of measure. In the same Display section, you’ll find a drop-down allowing you to switch between inches, centimeters, millimeters, and more. Once you’ve made your selections, click OK to apply the changes.

ruler advanced options

With these steps, your Microsoft Word ruler is set up and ready for use. You can now harness its full potential.

Understanding Tab Stops

Tab stops in Microsoft Word are helpful tools that let you control the alignment and organization of your text. There are a total of seven tab stop options available, each with its unique purpose. Here’s a quick round-up of all of them to understand their functionalities:

different tab stops

In summary, tab stops in Microsoft Word provide you with an efficient way to achieve consistent and visually appealing text formatting. Understanding the various tab stops and their functionalities allows you to save time and easily create professional-looking documents. 

Adjusting Margins with the Ruler

Let’s start putting the ruler to use by adjusting the margins of your document.

Place your cursor in the middle of the margin on the ruler until a double-sided arrow appears. Click and drag the arrow to adjust the margin to your desired width. 

adjust margins with ruler

For more precise sizing, hold the ALT key while dragging the arrow, and you’ll see the ruler change to show the exact measurements of each margin.

Remember, any changes to the margins will apply to the entire document. If you want to reset them, go to the Layout tab and choose one of the default options under the Margins drop-down.

Applying Indentation with the Ruler

Besides your margins, the ruler lets you customize various indentations within Word to fit your needs.

Fine-tuning Your Text: First-Line and Hanging Indentation

To quickly add a first-line indentation to a body of text, highlight the desired range and drag the first-line indent marker on the ruler to the right. 

move left indent first line in word

This is a great way to clean up a wall of text without manually pressing the tab key at the beginning of each paragraph.

Alternatively, the hanging indent marker can be applied to format references or bullet points. To use it, place your cursor within the text section and drag the hanging indent marker to your preferred location. This will control the indentation of the text after the first line.

hanging indent in word ruler

Aligning Headings: Centering with Tab Stops

Now, let’s center the headings in a document. First, click the tab stop icon until you see the center option. Insert the tab stop into the ruler by clicking the desired location. Remember, it will center the text relative to the marker, not the document.

Highlight the whole document or all headings depending on your intentions, then place the cursor at the start of a row and hit the tab button to center your section. Repeat this process for other headings. 

center tab stop

Pre-Setting Tab Stops for Efficiency

Pre-setting tab stops can save time and simplify your writing process when starting a new document. Inserting various tab stops, such as left, center, decimal, and more, will help you maintain consistent formatting and ensure your document looks crisp and professional.

To set tab stops, first, click on the small tab stop icon at the top left-hand corner of your document to cycle through the available options (left, right, center, etc.). Next, click on the ruler to insert a tab stop at the desired location. 

For example, you could insert two left tab stops, a decimal tab, and a center tab. When typing your text and hitting the tab key, you’ll see that your cursor jumps to the pre-set boundaries, making the process more efficient. No need to worry about manually aligning text – the tab stops will do that for you!

Adjusting and Removing Tab Stops

Sometimes, we make mistakes!

To adjust or clear tab stops in your document, follow these simple steps. First, highlight the section where you want to adjust the tab stops. If you’re going to apply the changes to the entire document, press CTRL + A to select all the text.

Now, you can easily adjust the position of the tab stops by clicking and dragging them along the ruler, just like you did with the margins. 

To remove or edit one or more tab stops, you can access the Tabs settings window by either going to the Home tab and clicking on the Paragraph settings button or by double-clicking on a tab stop icon in the ruler. 

changing tab stops

You will see a list of all the tab stops in your document. Click “Clear All” to remove all tab stops, or select specific ones to clear or modify them as needed. 

Remember, changing your tab stops won’t affect your indent markers, and always ensure that you’ve highlighted the intended area before making edits.

Reminder About The Cursor Position

Knowing your cursor’s position is essential while utilizing the ruler in Microsoft Word. Remember that the ruler is sensitive to the cursor’s placement. Indentation changes, tab stop settings, or any other adjustments you make with the ruler will only apply to the specific line, paragraph, or section you have selected.

I hate to sound like a broken record but to avoid confusion or accidental changes to unintended parts of your document, double-check your cursor position and highlighted area before making any adjustments. This simple practice will save you time and prevent unnecessary frustration.

As you master the ruler’s features and power in Microsoft Word, always keep your cursor location in mind. It will significantly help you manage and format your documents with ease, making your work look more professional and polished. 

Happy formatting!

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