MS Word How To: Different Alignments on the Same Line

TL;DR: View the ruler, click the L symbol twice, then click (and drag) your mouse across the ruler to the right margin. When typing, press tab to switch to right-aligned.

We were going over some past papers in one of my lectures the other day. The questions were put up on the projector and we discussed what we would write as answers. The questions typically look like this:

Rather than answering the question, one of the students asked how our lecturer had aligned the number of marks to the right, but the rest of the question on the same line was aligned to the left of the page.

Our lecturer had written this paper using LaTeX (pronounced Lay-Tek), a document preparation system commonly used by scientists and Microsoft-haters alike, which focuses on the content rather than the appearance of the document. I’m not going to go on about which is better – I’ll let you decide for yourself, but please don’t start a flame war in the comments box.

LaTeX vs Word

Anyway, when I tried LaTeX, I just couldn’t get on with it. Plus I can do everything I want to do in Word. Having multiple alignments on a single line is one of these things. Here’s how to have both left- and right-aligned text on one line:

First, make sure you can see the Ruler. This can be done by clicking View > Ruler or the tiny button on top of the scroll bar on the right.

The ruler tells you many things. The slider on the left (that looks like an egg timer) represents indentation. The top bit can be dragged across to increase the indent of the first line of a paragraph; the middle bit shows the indent of following lines; and the bottom bit just adjusts both indents at the same time.

The dashes under the ruler tell you where the default tab stops are – for example, going by the above screenshot, if you press the tab button on your keyboard 3 times, your cursor will be just under 4cm indented from the margin.

We can customise these tab stops. This is where that funny L shape on the left of the ruler comes in.

To see what this symbol does, type a sentence with a tab replacing one of the spaces.

Notice that in this example, I have inserted a tab after the ‘fox’. The text has resumed from the position indicated by the dash next to the 4.

Click on the ruler somewhere around the 6, and see what happens.

The tab has been extended so that text resumes from where you clicked.

You can remove this tab mark by clicking and dragging it off the ruler.

Clicking the L reveals some more symbols. Stop clicking when you see the backwards L.

Right tab

Hovering your mouse over this symbol reveals that it means ‘Right tab’. Now if you click on the ruler somewhere around 10cm, look what happens:

Now, the second half of the sentence is right-aligned to the tab stop you just created.

If you click and drag this tab stop to the right margin, the second half of the sentence will be properly right-aligned. The ruler should look like this:

Tada! Once you have a right-aligned tab stop, you can do cool things like make an official-looking exam paper for the University of Bath.

Bonus fact: The upside-down T symbol inserts a centre-aligned tab.

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