What Does Tab Mean?

Tab is the term used for aligning text in a word processor by moving the cursor to a predefined position. It is part of the paragraph formatting feature and usually accomplished with help of the tab key or options provided in the word processor. Tabs help in evenly distributing the text between the margins and for indention.


One tab is usually equivalent to five regular spaces.

Tab is also known as horizontal tab.

Techopedia Explains Tab

The tab functionality can be invoked with help of the tab key, with the tab dialog box in the word processor menu or with the help of markers in the word processor. When the tab functionality is invoked, the cursor moves to the right when the tab key is pressed. The tab key helps in controlling the movement of the cursor in the document as well. Default tab settings are provided in the word processor. When the tab option is selected, the word processor inserts a tab character, moving the insertion point to the tab setting. The word processor remembers the selection and aligns the next set of data accordingly in most cases.

Custom tab settings are provided and are indicated by the horizontal ruler in the word processor by tab markers. The common custom tab settings are right-aligned, left-aligned, centered and decimal-aligned.

Tab is a useful tool in word processing to increase the readability of a document.


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Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…