On typewriters, the
Tabs and tab stops still work the same way. A tab stop marks a location; typing a tab moves the cursor to that location.
These days, the tab is used only for inserting horizontal space in the middle of a line. If you need horizontal space at the beginning of a paragraph, adjust the first-line indent. For a true tabular layout, use a table, not tabs.
The tab is not as vital as it once was, but word processors still shortchange its capabilities. A new word-processing document has default tab stops every half inch. These default tab stops exist so that something happens when you type a tab in the new document. But this default behavior also suggests that what the tab key does is move the cursor a half inch at a time. Not true.
To get the most out of tabs, you should set your own tab stops. Avoid relying on the default tab stops—they undermine the goals of control and predictability. As with word spaces, also avoid using sequences of tabs to move the cursor around the screen.
To see your tab stops, display the ruler.
With the ruler visible, you can edit your tab stops.
To insert a new tab stop, click in the ruler where you want the tab stop.
To move a tab stop, click and drag it in the ruler.
To change a tab stop from one kind to another, double-click it in the ruler. In Pages, you can also right-click it.
To remove a tab stop, drag it off the ruler.
The usual tab stop is a left tab stop, meaning text under the tab stop aligns to its left edges. Word processors also offer center and right tab stops, having the expected effects, as well as decimal tab stops that align columns of numbers along their decimal points.
Use the proper tab stop for the job. For instance, don’t use a center tab stop to line up grids of numbers. A right tab can be useful in a document footer to put two pieces of text (e.g., the document title and the page number) at opposite ends of the same line.
Tabs are used in bulleted and numbered lists to separate the bullet or number from the text. Tabs are also used in automatically generated tables of contents and tables of authorities to put the page numbers at the right edge of the table.
Tabs and tab stops have their place, but in most cases they act as a less-capable alternative to a table. Use tabs and tab stops if your formatting task is truly simple. If not, upgrade to a table.
You can fill the space in front of a tab (for instance, with periods or underscores) by using a tab leader. Don’t approximate this effect by typing a hundred periods or underscores manually in front of a tab. That will lead to unpleasant consequences.
In HTML, there are no tabs or tab stops. But HTML does support tables.