Thursday, February 22, 2007

When Tab no longer outlines in MS Word

I just felt a compelling reason to document one of those moments where a seemingly-simple problem took longer to resolve than it should have.

I was cleaning up a simple multi-level outline ("Outline Numbered", FAQ) in Microsoft Word 2003. (Let's not get into any debate about using Word or otherwise!)

While it may be a bad habit, I'm accustomed to using Tab/Shift+Tab to increase/decrease the outline level/indentation. (Same as the default keyboard shortcuts in Eclipse and many other editors.) This particular time, the only result was actual tabs being inserted between the bullet and the text.

The culprit? Nothing under Tools | Options, nothing with Normal.dot, and nothing within the defined keyboard shortcuts. Word's AutoCorrect is the owner of this round of frustration.

The steps to correct this vary a bit depending upon the version of Word being used:

  • Word 2013 (15) or Word 2010 (14):
    1. Click the "File" tab, then "Options" from the left-hand navigation.
    2. Click "Proofing" from the left-hand navigation in the new window.
    3. Click the "AutoCorrect Options..." button from the right-hand panel.
    4. Click the "AutoFormat As You Type" tab.
    5. Under "Automatically as you type" at the bottom, check "Set left- and first-indent with tabs and backspaces."
  • Word 2007 (12):
    1. Click the "Office" button (very top-left of Window), then Word Options.
    2. Click "Proofing" from the left-hand navigation.
    3. Click the "AutoCorrect Options..." button from the right-hand panel.
    4. Click the "AutoFormat As You Type" tab.
    5. Under "Automatically as you type" at the bottom, check "Set left- and first-indent with tabs and backspaces."
  • Word 2003 (11) or 2002 (XP/10):
    1. Tools | AutoCorrect Options | AutoFormat As You Type.
    2. Near the bottom under "Automatically as you type" is an option "Set left- and first-indent with tabs and backspaces."
  • Word 2000 (9) or 97 (8):
    1. Tools | Options | Edit | "Tabs and backspace set left indent."

Other options are to use Alt+Shift+Arrow, where Arrow is the left or right arrow key, or to display and use the "Outlining" toolbar.

While I'm thinking about Word, I've got a few other frustrations/tips to share:

  • Default margins: I don't know why Word defaults to 1 ¼" (1.25") left/right margins, but 1" seems much more practical.
  • Collapsible menus: This is changed by the "Ribbon" (a.k.a. Microsoft Office Fluent) in Office 2007, but in earlier versions, I like to see all my options. See Tools | Customize | Options, "Always show full menus". While you're here, I'd also check "Show Standard and Formatting toolbars on two rows".
  • The "drawing canvas" - turn off under Tools | Options, "Automatically create drawing canvas when inserting AutoShapes".
  • The "Reading Layout", most often seen when opening Word attachments from Outlook. Turn off under Tools | Options, "Allow starting in Reading Layout".
  • If Microsoft is pushing their .Net Framework so hard, why not use it to replace VBA within Office? (The closest option at the moment is the Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO).)

88 comments:

Anonymous said...

Randomly found this post through a Google search. Just wanted to say thanks--the outline/tab thing has been driving me crazy! -- Amy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. This solved the problem for me. Scott

Anonymous said...

Hi. I have this same problem. I'm using Word 2004 for Mac and do not have the option to set the indents in the "Auto Correct" and "Auto Format" tool area. Does anyone know how to fix this problem with this particular version?

This is so annoying... any help would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Megan said...

Thank you! This was driving me nuts!!

Anonymous said...

This has been making me want to throw my computers through the wall for the last 4 years...
THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...

Mac issue here too! Help! I spend more time looking for answers than I would just moving the mouse to click indent - I know the answer is out there.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks a bunch. Ran across on a google search as well.

W.E.B. Adamant said...

I'm a google-searcher too. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

has anyone figured out how to fix this on Word 2004 for Mac?

Anonymous said...

this was amazingly helpful! found it through google as well! it should be made the first hit! Thank you thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the post Mark. This was driving me crazy and you provided a straightforward fix.

deepbits said...

Thanks a lot for this resolution. I had almost learnt to live with this idiosyncrasy of Word.

kodiakidhawnboars said...

for mac users, preferences|Edit|Tabs and backspace set left indent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for documenting this! I'm using Word 2007 and it stopped working for me too... it's still elusively located under autocorrect options; although now you get to it via the MS Office button --> Word options --> Proofing --> Autocorrect Options --> Autoformat as you type tab. Even harder to find now!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for solving my outline problems and for the tips on getting rid of several other annoying features!

Learn MS Word said...

Glad to know I'm not the only one suffering from madness due to the Microsoft Word outline/tab issue.

Anonymous said...

SWEEET!!!!!!! I was getting sooooo annoyed with the tab thingy.

Anonymous said...

Random Google searcher: your tip is transferable to Word 2007 as well. Thanks, this has been plaguing me for a year!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I was on the phone with tech support for over 30 min after searching Word forever looking for a fix! My IT guy finally gave up and suggested I run a google search. I found you answer in less than 2 minutes! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

the mac answer works. i just spend 2 hours and no other remedy works for me. preferences | edit | tabs | backspace and tabs set left indent...fixed it. thanks!

Anonymous said...

wwwwwwwwoooowwwwwwww i love you!! this was driving me crazy and i wanted to throw my computer out the window!!! i figured someone else had to have had the same problem and decided to google it and this was the first link!! thank you thank you thank you thank you!

Mike said...

Eureka! Thanks for posting this. My note-taking was severely impaired by something so minor.

Anonymous said...

Thanks!!! Like many of the other posts, I found this info via google and found the indent problem to be quite frustrating. Thanks for resolving it.

George said...

Hate to join the din, but I really owe you.

Fix worked on my Word 2008 for Mac.

I don't know how the box got unchecked either, but boy, I thought I was in serious trouble.

Thanks!

Peter said...

I agree, I didn't turn this off, so it must have been an update that did it. It finally bugged me enough to look it up and I did the same things of looking everywhere else.

Thanks a bunch....

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the helpful outlining tab hint. I've been doing this the hard way since I switched from Dell to a MacBook in October!

Anonymous said...

You just made my lawschool outlining much more tolerable. Thank you.

Gonks said...

Thank you so much!! I've been trying to remember to fix this for months. Couldn't find the answer anywhere else except your blog.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy right now. Thank you so much. What would I do without people like you??!!!

Anonymous said...

I have been frustrated about this exact problem with Word Mac for 8 months now. Finally found this and it solved in less than 2 minutes! Thanks so much.

yiluuu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm using Word 2004 for Mac, and I'm experiencing this problem. However... I can't find a "Set left- and first-indent with tabs and backspaces" option under AutoFormat As You Type. What's wrong?

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Two years later an this is still very helpful. Another way I found it on 2007 is to misspell a word and right click it and you will get the dialog box. Then click the AutoFormat tab and it's the same check box.

Anonymous said...

God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Using a Mac (Office 2004), had same issue, used the remedy in one of the comments... Bingo! I think the preferences box got unchecked when I upgraded to Snow Leopard. Regardless of how it happened, thanks for this blog!!!

Anonymous said...

I tried tech support at my college, the apple web site, Microsoft.... EVERYTHING. And this finally fixed my problem - Right in time for finals! Thank you SO much!

Anonymous said...

Oh my God, how annoying for Mac 2004 users here is the answer: go to Word (which is right next to file on the main toolbar), select Preferences, Edit and then find the set right left tab. I don't usually post to comment sections but it took me 30 minutes to figure this out.

Anonymous said...

YOu are a genius! I just reinstalled and I cannot find what was wrong...and I even reinstalled....YOU SAVED so much of my time! :)

Anonymous said...

thank you!

Anonymous said...

amazing. thank you thank you for the help with macs!!

pfonzi said...

this fixed my problem in Word 2007. this is bizarre - I have no idea why this happens, but it does. I had to uncheck and recheck the "set left and first indent with tabs and backspaces" box and then shift+tab worked again.

Anonymous said...

"preferences | edit | tabs | backspace and tabs set left indent...fixed it. "
This worked for my Word 2004.
Thank you thank you thank you! I was at my wit's end.

Anonymous said...

For Mac 2004 users, thanks very, very much for the above comment. Does anyone know how to set the default spacing, though? The indent happens, but the default spacing is really exaggerated and I don't want to have to manually fix it each time...

But again, thanks so, so much for the helpful fix!

Sheridan said...

I had the same problem in 2008 word. I have no idea how it got switched. I've been outlining without a problem on this computer for two years. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Found this in a google search and fixed my problem (on Word 2008 for mac). Thanks!

Doc said...

Worked great in Word 2008 for Mac. This change has only been after a fairly recent update sometime this year. I'm not sure why that happened, but it is great to get it fixed. GREAT I say, as I use outlines every single week in my work.

Doc said...

Found your post via Google and tried it in Word 2008 for Mac. It worked perfectly. Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

This has been driving me crazy for weeks. I was so happy to find your solution through a Google search. Thank you!!!!

Anonymous said...

The stated fix would be great if I actually had a menu item called "Set left- and first-indent with tabs and backspaces" Using word 2007 and there is no such choice under the suggested pathway or anywhere else I have looked, looked, looked.

Mark A. Ziesemer said...

Anonymous (from June 4): I've updated the post to include step-by-step instructions for the updated versions of Word, including 2007 and 2010.

Anonymous said...

FYI you have the top google result for "tab shortcut outline level Microsoft Word"

Your post solved me problem. Thanks!

P_B_E said...

The updates to 2007 and 2010 and literally PRICELESS! Top search for "how to change the tab settings in Microsoft Word" ... THANK YOU!!!!

P_B_E said...

2007 and 2010 updates are PRICELESS! Thank you for bringing me back to sanity!

Debbie said...

Thank you!!

Megan Rees said...

THANK YOU! I teach a keyboarding class and my students are doing outlines. One student had this problem and I had to have a quick fix. The first site I found had a ridiculous and long and hard to follow fix for it. So glad I found this post! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This little problem has been driving me crazy! Thanks for posting this fix.

Christine said...

THANK YOU! This is much appreciated!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I just got a new laptop at work and couldn't figure out why the Tab key didn't indent my outlines.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mark. Still useful after all these years. (Your solution, I mean.)

Unknown said...

You might want to update the text to say that this issue can happen even when the item is already checked. Like another commenter, the option in my Word 2010 was already checked. After reading the other person's comment, I unchecked the option, hit Okay, clicked Autocorrect options again and checked it, hit Okay, and it's fixed now! There is obviously a bug here.

Thank you, Mark!

Sarah said...

Thanks one hundred times :)

-Sarah

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I got a new computer and was starting to write an outline and ran into this problem. After a quick Google search I found your article! You've saved me countless hours!

Anonymous said...

This really helped! Couldn't figure out why it was doing this. Thanks!

LGillham said...

I have been going crazy trying to take notes in class because somehow one little box became unchecked! Even the Mac forums were no help. THank you so much for this post! I have Word 2011 for Mac and I just had to go to tools-autocorrect-autoformat as you type and check the "tabs and backspace set left indent" box. I would still be going crazy if I didn't find this post!!

Charis said...

:8 You saved my life!!

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate this post. More than you will ever know. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You're awesome. This is the solution I needed!

Anssi Porttikivi said...

This does not work in this case: I copy paste from Powerpoint to Word outline. Some rows asre sricky, I must outline them with mouse, choosing "level 3" or so. Tab won't work, Alt-Shift-Arrow neither. Some line work, some don't. Settings are as advised.

Anonymous said...

YOU ARE LITERALLY MY LIFE SAVER!!!!! THANK YOU for taking the time to post this easy step-by-step instructions page!

Anonymous said...

I could marry you for this post thank you so very much

James said...

I see a recurring theme in the previous comments and wanted to add my appreciation. I never would have figured this out on my own but knew it had to have been a changed setting, as it always worked before. I'm curious as to what changed it in the first place, but I can't thank you enough. I googled the issue and found your post immediatley and the problem was solved in less than 30 seconds! Thanks for sharing something seemingly so insignificant!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I was getting immensely frustrated using outline view!

Karen said...

THANK YOU!!!

Cassandra Cooper said...

THANK YOU! And thank you for keeping the versions updated after all this time. You saved me a big headache and tons of time!!!

JMOAdminAssist said...

Genius. Thank you!!

Brett Boterman said...

THOUGHT THIS WAS GOING TO BE THE DEATH OF ME. THANKS FOR SAVING, ME AN HOUR OF SEARCHING TO FIX THIS

monarchadvocate said...

A million thanks!@!

Xia and Isa said...

THANK YOU. This was driving me crazy. Why in the world the option changed is beyond me, but now it's fixed :-)

Kelly Smith said...

You are awesome. Thank you so much!

Daniel Gallagher said...

Fantastic! The indenting glitch made me absolutely CRAZY! Most helpful post I have ever come across. Seriously.

Daniel Gallagher said...

Fantastic post! You saved me TONS of madness and frustration!

ggg said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!! This has been driving me crazy. The tab on my home computer worked but not at work. Really, really helpful!!!!

ErnestLise said...

My box is checked, but the feature isn't working. I unchecked it and went to my document, then rechecked it and still it doesn't work. Oh, please! Anyone? The rest of you know how frustrating this is! What else can I try on 2010?

ErnestLise said...

My box was checked, but the feature still didn't work, so I unchecked it and went back to my document. Then I re-checked it and hit "OK". It still doesn't work! Please someone help! All of you know how frustrating this is!

NJO said...

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!

I have been struggling with this for MONTHS!!!!

Colette Carlisle said...

Ditto, NJO! While I have only struggled with this for a couple of weeks, it was driving me bonker! I would have spent countless hours on this. Thank you very much
CTC

Nik Breiner said...

Thank you! Huge help!

Cole Hickman said...

Thank you!!!