Why should you never use the Tab key when writing your book?
So many teachers taught so many students to use the Tab key on computers, but it causes problems when manuscripts are turned into books.
Here are some potential issues with Tab-indented paragraphs:
- A full tab indent may be substituted for a single space (almost no indent).
- Indents may be huge or irregular (especially with any bulleted lists).
- Indents may disappear altogether.
So, what is the process for having clean, uncluttered paragraph indents all the way through the editing and publishing process?
Glad you asked.
Prepare your document.
When you first open your document, it should default to the “Home” tab view. (This “tab” here doesn’t mean the Tab key—here I’m referring to the way to navigate the “Ribbon” at the top of the screen in Word. These section tabs generally default to say Home / Insert / Draw, etc. Pull up your document and see what I mean.) When you click your mouse inside a body paragraph, you should see a highlighted box on the right side of that Home ribbon that says “Normal,” unless you’ve specifically chosen a different style.
Whatever the body style, you can easily update it to have the proper indent that will be read accurately by future formatting programs. Before we tackle the indents, though, let’s take a few minutes and prep the rest of our text . . . (If you’re concerned about the process, make a copy of your file or use an old/different one to play with.)
Protect your headings.
If your manuscript is fiction, this should be easy, since most formatting is simply a new chapter and possibly some point of view changes. If you’re dealing with nonfiction, this will take a few moments longer.
This step is where the Heading options in the Styles panel will come in handy. (If you simply bolded/centered your chapter titles without knowing about styles, don’t worry—you’re not alone! This step prevents allll those headings from being treated like the rest of the Normal text—no fun to try to go back and fix dozens of subheadings because they virtually disappeared by skipping this step!) First, go to your first chapter or section heading—Dedication, Introduction, Chapter 1, etc. Highlight the text (or just click into that line), and go to your Styles panel at the top. Find the “Heading 1” option, and select it for this main heading. (You may have to click the drop-down arrow at the far right of the Styles panel to see the Heading 1 option.) It will change the appearance of the text, but for the first time doing this, that’s no problem. You can change the appearance back later—more on that in a minute—while still keeping it designated as a heading (and changing the appearance will make it far easier to see if you’ve caught all your headings).
Make sure each chapter has Heading 1 as the beginning distinction. Since it’s best in the long run if chapters only have one “H1” designation, go through and mark any main headings throughout the chapter with the “Heading 2” text style, and then Heading 3 for any subheadings beyond that. (Most books do not need more than three levels of headings.) Again, your text will change appearance, but that’s okay.
Delete existing tabs.
Now that your headings are protected from this next step, you need to get rid of existing Tab key strokes. This can (thankfully!) be done all at once. It is a big step, so it’s okay to be nervous here. (Remember: “Undo” is your friend! The keyboard shortcut is Ctrl+Z for PC .)
On the Home ribbon of a PC, at the far right, there is a section labeled Editing. In this section, there is a button called Replace. (The keyboard shortcut is Ctrl+H . . . Don’t ask me why.) A box with three tabs will pop up: Find, Replace, and Go To. Under the Replace tab, there is a “Find what” box, where you’ll type this:
(that’s Shift+6 and a lowercase letter t)
In the “Replace with” box, don’t type anything. Leave it blank. We want the Tab key strokes gone and not actually replaced with anything.
To find the next Tab in your document, click the Find Next button. Click Replace once it’s highlighted, and watch it disappear! Once you’re confident in the process (or if you’re good from the beginning), hit Replace All, and all your paragraphs will be left with no indents. You did it!
If, by chance, you click Find Next and no results were found, then your version of Word likely had automatic indents correctly built in. So you can skip the rest!
Set your style.
Okay, so back to that Normal option—and here’s how we can change one paragraph and update the indents for the entire document! (It’s a bit like magic.)
On your Home tab, near the options to make your text left-, center-, or right-aligned, there is a button called Line and Paragraph Spacing. (If you hover your mouse cursor for several seconds, the most recent versions of word will pop that name up so you know it’s the right one.) It looks like the surrounding buttons with lines, but it has two tiny blue arrows, one pointing up and one down. With your cursor clicked INSIDE one of your Normal body paragraphs, click this Line and Paragraph Spacing button and choose Line Spacing Options near the bottom.
There should be three bold headings along the left side called General, Indents, and Spacing. Indents is the one we’re after. Ignore the drop-down boxes that say Left and Right—those move the ENTIRE paragraph, so that’s not what we’re after. We want the “Special” option. In the drop-down menu, change the option from (none) to First Line, then in the box next to it that says “By:” you’ll set a dimension in inches. .25”, .33”, or .5” are all fine, but anything larger than that looks a bit old-style (and will be ultimately changed for your book anyway!) Click “OK” at the bottom—and you’ve changed that paragraph!
Adjust the entire document.
But now how do we apply this to the rest of the document? First, highlight the entire paragraph you just changed. (The most recent versions of Word will let you triple-click inside the paragraph to select it all.) With it still highlighted, go up to the Styles pane and right-click the Normal box. This will drop a menu down, and the first option should be Update Normal to Match Selection. That’s the one you want: choose that, and watch your paragraphs re-indent themselves! Now whenever you type a new paragraph, it will still indent automatically—but this time it won’t be with the use of a tab.
Note: this is also the way to change your heading fonts and sizes; update them to the appearance you want, right, left, or center the text, then highlight the line (again, triple-click works great). Now, if it’s Heading 1 you’re updating, right-click that box in the Styles panel, click Update Heading 1 to Match Selection, and all those headings throughout the book will now match each other and look like YOU want them to.
It’s your turn!
Now that you’re armed with history and how-to, you may well win points with your editor and your future book designer if you take these steps to submit the cleanest manuscript possible. If this really doesn’t seem like it’s worth your time, then it’s likely that your future formatting professional will take care of it for a reasonable charge. Happy writing!