MacMost Now 710: Creating Forms With Tab Stops

If you need to create printable forms that have blank spaces, you should use tab stops instead of underscore characters. Using tab stops allows you to line up blank spaces perfectly, making your forms look more professional.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: MacMost Now 710: Creating Forms With Tab Stops.

Hi, this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode, I want to talk about the lost art of tab stops. So tab stops are when you're typing in a word processor, you hit the tab key and it jumps to a certain position. So for instance, let's do 'This', and I'll hit the tab key there, and 'That', and you can see that this lines up right here with about the half inch mark. I can do 'One', and tab, and then 'Two' and you can see that the second word there, because there's a tab, will line up perfectly there. I can actually go into View and Show Invisibles, and you can see the tab there as a little arrow. In addition, I can Select All and then I can add tabs here by clicking in the ruler in Pages and I can set where it is. It's usually set to a default of half an inch. I can actually set one to say at two and a half inches right there on the page. And then I could add another line and you can see it lines up perfectly here. So you can line up items using tab stops. Now it works basically the same in almost any word processor, in Microsoft Word, in TextEdit even. You can use tab stops for this. Now the art that comes from this is using tab stops to create forms. So say you want to do something like this and this drives me crazy. People do something like 'Name'. Let's do 'First Name' and you do a colon. And then people will do these, you know, shift and the underscore and a bunch of underscores there. And then a bunch of extra spaces. And I still have the Show Invisibles on so you can see all the spaces and things. And then they'll do 'Last Name' like this. And then they try to do more and things just never line up, right? So you can do 'Street Address', and how do you get it to be perfectly there at the end? That's a little bit off. So I'm going to do a bunch of spaces and kind of try and put it right under 'Last Name', like 'City'. You know, and it just turns into a mess, and especially when you try to adjust something there. And try to get things lined up perfectly. It doesn't quite do it. Hide Invisibles here, it's kind of hard to see, but you can see how there's no way for me to get the end of that line lined up perfectly here, because I'm just adding these underscore characters. Let me show you the right way to do a form like this. So let's look at the right way to do this. Let's start, say, with 'First Name' in a form. Now I've got the colon there and I want to create a space between the colon and the beginning of the first blank space. I'm going to do a tab, a tab stop there. And then I'm going to set it here, so it'll be at a certain point, let's say, at the two and a half inch mark. And then I'm going to do another tab and this is where the blank line is going to be. I'm going to set this to go for an inch and a half right here, and what I'm going to do is I'm going to bring in the Inspector. I go to the Text Inspector and Tabs. I'm going to select that tab and set a leader. I can set it, it's just off the screen there, to an underline. You can do dashes and dots. And you can see it's going to fill in in a kind of a leader, it's a blank. They're underscore characters, but they're not underscore characters. It's just a line underneath. I'm going to do yet another tab. And I'm going to line this up perfectly at four and a half and I'm going to do 'Last Name'. Then I'm going to do tab again and I'm going to kind of set this up to start here. Do another tab. Then I'm going to set this up to go all the way to the end. And then for this tab here, six and half inches, I'm going to set that up also to be a leader. And then you can see here that I've created this blank space. Let me go and remove the invisibles. There, and you can see that. Now I can adjust these tabs, let me make sure I have everything selected, I can adjust these tabs, and look at how the blank space will move with everything. So that makes a little more sense there. I've got this little thing going where I've got about an inch of space for the label there and then I have the blank space. And now the cool thing is if I were to just go to another line and type 'Street', tab, tab, and again, it all lines up. And these lines are perfectly set for underneath where the previous tab stops are. So everything lines up really nice and neatly. Now I can just select this area and say well, I want in this line, the line to start a little sooner, like that. And just have the end spaces lined up. And you could do all sorts of things, like for instance, here, I could have it actually end a little sooner, get right up to here. Let's set that tab stop to also have the underscore leader there. And then I can do another tab and say 'Zip' and then create another tab here because that will see I've lined the end up there, but I've created all these other little tab stops here that I can now adjust where the end of this line is, the beginning of that line is, to get a form made up perfectly. So it really is kind of an art. You kind of get used to playing with the different tab stops, adding these underscore leaders to it, and then creating forms that then have everything just lining up exactly right and looking like a very professional form, rather than one of those ones that somebody obviously did by hitting a bunch of underscore characters a whole bunch of times. So I hope you found this useful and I hope use it next time you need to create a form in any word processing program. Til next time, this is Gary with MacMost Now.

Comments: 11 Responses to “MacMost Now 710: Creating Forms With Tab Stops”

    7 years ago

    Thanks, I did find it use, Gary.

    7 years ago

    Gary, you are the best place for great tutorials for “the price”. That why I bought your book although I never really have to read it much since your website covers it all and much more. But I felt good giving you something back for all the great tutorials. Thanks!

    Dr. Jacqui Cyrus
    7 years ago

    This is a most useful instructional video that I will share with my undergraduate students. Thanks.

    7 years ago

    I use this method in Indesign too, great video…

    7 years ago

    Much too simple. I mean what will I do with my old bottles of “white out” and “white out tape.” Gary, thanks again for another great tutorial. I use tab all of the time for other things but never thought of it for this. By the way, see above a mention of a book. Please send link to it.

      7 years ago

      The book is my old one for Snow Leopard. For Lion, you should look at my Video Guide to Lion (link on left) — and it is now free in the App Store.

    7 years ago

    Gary, have i told tou before that you are my mac god?? No? Well im saying it now.

    Thank you so much for all the tutorials you provide us. I cant believe all this great info is free.
    All hail the mac god!

    Michael Wheless
    7 years ago

    Gary, Great podcast! I am especially glad that you indicated a reason for guiding people in the use of tabs. I am in agreement with you that many people use the overly simple way to develop a form. I can understand why, as I do it myself many times because I haven’t learned any better way. Your instructions were clear and simple.

    I am also becoming more aware of how you encourage your fellow Mac users to just experiment with controls. I have shied away from using the inspector feature, but you have encouraged me to fiddle around with it more.

    6 years ago

    I found that Tab Leaders do not behave correctly if “Measurement units” are set to Metric (System Preferences=>Language and Text=>Region). In US length units there is no problem.
    Tab Leaders’ marks are displayed incorrectly for me if I follow your video (3:08) and have cm., not inches.
    My Pages version is 4.3 (1048), OS X v.10.8.2.

    6 years ago

    Thanks for your explanation, it was the only thing that helped me get things done tonight!


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