How to use rulers in microsoft word

The ruler tool in Word is sometimes overlooked by many when trying to align and position text and other objects. It is used to control the left and right indentation of your Word document. It also controls first-line indentation and tabs. The advantage of using the ruler is that you can use the mouse to manipulate the controls and get instant visual results.

In this guide today, you’ll learn how to show the ruler in MS Word when hidden. And how to use the ruler to indent your content in your Word document.

How to show ruler on Word

The ruler may not appear in your document window. Therefore, you’ll need to take some steps to display it.

Obey the instructions below to get the ruler on your Word document:

  • Click on the View tab.
  • In the Show group, click to check the Ruler item.
  • As soon as you place the checkmark by the Rulercheckbox, the ruler will appear in your document’s window.
  • To hide the ruler, uncheck the Ruler item.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

This is how you may show and hide the ruler in Microsoft Word.

Using the ruler for indentation

Using the mouse, you can create indents with the horizontal ruler. It makes it easy for creating the first line and hanging indents. A hanging indent indents all lines in a paragraph except the first line. A first-line indent, on the other hand, indents only the first line of a paragraph.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Word has a ruler feature that enables you to do reasonably accurate layout work right within a Word document. The Microsoft Word ruler is useful for creating resumes, cover letters, forms, brochures, and other documents where it matters where and how big type or graphics elements are.

If you don’t see the ruler while working on a document, it's probably turned off. Here's how to show the ruler in Word.

What Can the Microsoft Word Ruler Do?

If you want to set a tab, or see how big your text box or headline will be when you print a document, you can use the ruler to measure where on the page you want those elements to fall and see how big they will be when printed.

You can also place and alter margins and tabs with the ruler simply by dragging them on the ruler.

How to Get the Ruler in Word

If you want a ruler that appears horizontally and vertically, first make sure you're working in the Print Layout view. With your document open, select Print Layout on the View tab.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Select the Ruler checkbox. In the Ribbon, it's located at the top of the column that also contains Gridlines and Navigation Pain.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

The ruler will appear above your document, as well as vertically on the left side in the Print Layout.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

With the rule enabled, you can use tabs and margins, measure the size and placement of text boxes, and more in the Print Layout view.

To turn the ruler off, uncheck the Ruler checkbox.

How to Display the Microsoft Ruler in the Draft Layout in Word

If you prefer to work in the Draft layout, rather than the Print layout, the ruler works similarly in that view. While the ruler will not appear along the vertical margin of your document in the Draft layout, it will display along the top. It works much the same way as it does in the Print layout.

First make sure your document is open and you're looking at it in the Draft view. To do this, Select Draft on the View tab.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Select the Ruler checkbox on the Ribbon. It's in the same column on the ribbon as Gridlines and Navigation Pane.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

How to Use the Microsoft Word Ruler

With the Ruler is enabled in either the Print Layout or in the Draft Layout, you can use it to change the margins and tabs, or to see the size and placement of graphic or type elements.

Using the Ruler to Change the Margins

Hover the mouse over the double tab at the left margin. Your mouse will turn to a double arrow and “Left Margin” will display as hover text. The part of the document outside the margin — the the left — is shaded grey.

Select and drag the left margin icon to increase your left margin.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

On the right end of the ruler is the right margin. Hover your mouse over it until your mouse turns into a two-way arrow with "Right Margin" appearing over it.

Select and drag the right margin icon to see how it changes your right margin.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

How to Create a Tab Using the Ruler

Place your cursor on the line where you want to place the tab.

Select the ruler in the spot where you want the tab. This will create a small corner-shaped icon representing your tab.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Press the Tab key to place a tab in your document, then drag along to ruler to change the tab's placement.

If you don’t see the ruler at the top of your document, go to View > Ruler to display it.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Set a tab stop using the ruler

Select Left Tab at the left end of the horizontal ruler to change it to the type of tab you want.

Choose one of the following types:

A Left tab stop sets the left end of the text line. As you type, the text fills toward the right.

A Center tab stop sets the position at the middle of the text line. As you type, the text centers on this position.

A Right tab stop sets the right end of the text line. As you type, the text fills toward the left.

A Decimal tab stop aligns numbers around a decimal point. Without regard to the number of digits, the decimal point remains in the same position. See Use decimal tabs to line up numbers with decimal points.

A Bar tab stop doesn’t position text. It inserts a vertical bar at the tab position. Unlike other tabs, the bar tab is added to the text as soon as you click the ruler. If you don’t clear the bar tab stop before you print your document, the vertical line is printed.

Click or tap the bottom of the horizontal ruler where you want to set the tab stop.

Drag the tab stop down off the ruler to remove it.

The left indent sets the position of the left side of a paragraph. When you move the left indent, your first line indent or hanging indent are moved in sync.

Select the text where you want set the left indent.

On the ruler, drag the square marker on the lower left side of the ruler to the place you want the left edge of the paragraph.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

The right indent marker controls the position of the right side of a paragraph.

Select the text where you want set the right indent.

On the ruler, drag the triangular marker on the lower right side of the ruler to the place you want the right edge of the paragraph.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

With a first line indent, the first line of a paragraph is indented and the following lines of a paragraph are not.

Select the text where you want to add a first line indent.

On the ruler, drag the triangular marker on the top left of the ruler to the place you want the indentation to start, for example to the 1″ mark.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

With a hanging indent, the second and all the following lines of a paragraph are indented more than the first.

Select the text where you want to add a hanging indent.

On the ruler, drag the upper triangular part of the lower marker to the place you want the indentation to start, for example to the 1″ mark.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Turn on the ruler

If you don’t see the ruler at the top of your document, go to View > Ruler to display it.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Set a tab stop using the ruler

Select Left Tab at the left end of the horizontal ruler to change it to the type of tab you want.

Choose one of the following types:

A Left tab stop sets the left end of the text line. As you type, the text fills toward the right.

A Center tab stop sets the position at the middle of the text line. As you type, the text centers on this position.

A Right tab stop sets the right end of the text line. As you type, the text fills toward the left.

A Decimal tab stop aligns numbers around a decimal point. Without regard to the number of digits, the decimal point remains in the same position. See Use decimal tabs to line up numbers with decimal points.

A Bar tab stop doesn’t position text, it inserts a vertical bar at the tab position. Unlike other tabs, the bar tab is added to the text as soon as you click the ruler. If you don’t clear the bar tab stop before you print your document, the vertical line is printed.

Click or tap the bottom of the horizontal ruler where you want to set the tab stop.

The ruler tool in Microsoft Word provides a simple way of making sure different parts of your document are aligned. It also lets you quickly adjust margins and indents in your work. So, how does it work? Let us explain.

How to Display the Ruler in Microsoft Word

To show the horizontal and vertical rulers in Microsoft Word, simply:

  • Go to the View tab on the main ribbon.
  • Click the Ruler checkbox.

This should then display the rulers on the top and left margins in the Print Layout view. You can then change the unit of measurement to suit your requirements.

The top-margin ruler (and the ruler checkbox on the View tab).

How to Adjust Margins Using the Ruler

On the ruler, the gray areas represent the margins of your document. The white space between these represents the part of the page writing will appear within.

To adjust a margin in a document using the ruler tool:

  • Hover the cursor at the edge of the margin you want to adjust.
  • When the double-headed arrow cursor appears, click and drag to increase or decrease the margin size.

However, this way of adjusting margins can be inexact. As such, if you need to ensure precision, we suggest using the standard margin options in Word.

How to Use Indentation Tabs

You should also be able to see some white shapes on the edge of the ruler. You can use these to quickly adjust indentations in a document. All you need to do is place the cursor in text you want to indent, then drag the relevant shape on the ruler.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Indentation tabs on the ruler.

The trick, then, is making sure you select the correct tab! On that note:

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  • To adjust the left indent (i.e., the indentation of text from the left margin), drag the rectangle shape on the ruler to move all the tabs at once. This will then adjust all the text in the paragraph where you placed the cursor.
  • To add or adjust a first line indent, drag the arrow at the top of the ruler. This will indent just the first line in the paragraph where you placed the cursor.
  • For a hanging indent, select and move the triangle just above the rectangle shape (this will also move the left indent tab). Doing this will indent each line in the selected paragraph after the first line.
  • To adjust the right indent, simply click and drag the arrow on the righthand side of the rule. This will indent text from the right margin.

If you’re not sure which tab is which, moreover, simply hover the cursor over any of the shapes on the ruler. Its name will then pop up, helping you to pick the right one.

As with margins, though, adjusting indents via the ruler can be imprecise. To ensure consistency, you may want to check the size of indents via the paragraph menus.

Toggling the Vertical Ruler

If the vertical ruler doesn’t display with the horizontal one, you may need to turn it on via the options menu. To do this in Word for Windows:

  • Go to File > Options >Advanced and scroll down to Display.
  • Click the Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view checkbox (you can also select to display this ruler on the right margin here).
  • Click OK to accept the change.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

In Word for Mac, meanwhile, the process is:

  • Go to Word > Preferences via the toolbar.
  • Select View under Authoring and Proofing Tools.
  • Check Vertical ruler under Show Window Elements.
  • Close the preferences pane to save your changes.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

You should now see the vertical ruler running down the left side of your document.

Expert Formatting Services

If you want to be sure your documents look perfect, our formatting services could be exactly what you need. All you need to do is add the “Formatting” option when you upload a document for proofreading, then let us know what formatting to apply!

Lori Kaufman
How to use rulers in microsoft wordLori Kaufman
Writer

Lori Kaufman is a technology expert with 25 years of experience. She’s been a senior technical writer, worked as a programmer, and has even run her own multi-location business. Read more.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Rulers in Word help you position text, graphics, tables, and other elements in your documents. To gain a bit of extra document space, you can hide both the horizontal and vertical rulers.

If you are working on a small screen, you may want to temporarily hide parts of the Word window to maximize the space used for your document. If you’re not currently using the rulers, you can hide easily hide them and then show them again.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

The rulers in Word only display when you’re in Print Layout view. So, if you don’t see the rulers, and you haven’t turned them off, click the “View” tab and then click the “Print Layout” button in the Views section.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

The View tab is also where you can hide or show the rulers. To hide the rulers, uncheck the “Ruler” box in the Show section. To show the rulers again, simply check the “Ruler” box.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

The rulers are removed from the document space and you gain a bit more space to work. To show the rulers again, simply check the “Ruler” box on the View tab.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

If you don’t use the vertical ruler that displays on the left side of the document space, but you want to show the horizontal ruler at the top of the document space, you can hide just the vertical ruler. To do this, click the “File” tab.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

On the backstage screen, click “Options” in the list of items on the left.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Click “Advanced” in the list of items on the left side of the Word Options screen.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Scroll down to the Display section and uncheck the “Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view” box.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Click “OK” to accept the change and close the Word Options dialog box.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Now, the vertical ruler is hidden. If the “Ruler” box is checked on the View tab, the horizontal ruler still displays at the top of the document space.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Note that if the “Ruler” box in the Show section of the View tab is unchecked, neither ruler will display, whether or not you have the vertical ruler enabled.

You can also hide the ribbon in Word to free up more document space.

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How to use rulers in microsoft word Lori Kaufman
Lori Kaufman is a technology expert with 25 years of experience. She’s been a senior technical writer, worked as a programmer, and has even run her own multi-location business.
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The ruler tool in Microsoft Word provides a simple way of making sure different parts of your document are aligned. It also lets you quickly adjust margins and indents in your work. So, how does it work? Let us explain.

How to Display the Ruler in Microsoft Word

To show the horizontal and vertical rulers in Microsoft Word, simply:

  • Go to the View tab on the main ribbon.
  • Click the Ruler checkbox.

This should then display the rulers on the top and left margins in the Print Layout view. You can then change the unit of measurement to suit your requirements.

The top-margin ruler (and the ruler checkbox on the View tab).

How to Adjust Margins Using the Ruler

On the ruler, the grey areas represent the margins of your document. The white space between these represents the part of the page writing will appear within.

To adjust a margin in a document using the ruler tool:

  • Hover the cursor at the edge of the margin you want to adjust.
  • When the double-headed arrow cursor appears, click and drag to increase or decrease the margin size.

However, this way of adjusting margins can be inexact. As such, if you need to ensure precision, we suggest using the standard margin options in Word.

How to Use Indentation Tabs

You should also be able to see some white shapes on the edge of the ruler. You can use these to quickly adjust indentations in a document. All you need to do is place the cursor in text you want to indent, then drag the relevant shape on the ruler.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Indentation tabs on the ruler.

The trick, then, is making sure you select the correct tab! On that note:

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

  • To adjust the left indent (i.e. the indentation of text from the left margin), drag the rectangle shape on the ruler to move all the tabs at once. This will then adjust all the text in the paragraph where you placed the cursor.
  • To add or adjust a first line indent, drag the arrow at the top of the ruler. This will indent just the first line in the paragraph where you placed the cursor.
  • For a hanging indent, select and move the triangle just above the rectangle shape (this will also move the left indent tab). Doing this will indent each line in the selected paragraph after the first line.
  • To adjust the right indent, simply click and drag the arrow on the righthand side of the rule. This will indent text from the right margin.

If you’re not sure which tab is which, moreover, simply hover the cursor over any of the shapes on the ruler. Its name will then pop up, helping you to pick the right one.

As with margins, though, adjusting indents via the ruler can be imprecise. To ensure consistency, you may want to check the size of indents via the paragraph menus.

Toggling the Vertical Ruler

If the vertical ruler doesn’t display with the horizontal one, you may need to turn it on via the options menu. To do this in Word for Windows:

  • Go to File > Options >Advanced and scroll down to Display.
  • Click the Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view checkbox (you can also select to display this ruler on the right margin here).
  • Click OK to accept the change.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

In Word for Mac, meanwhile, the process is:

  • Go to Word > Preferences via the toolbar.
  • Select View under Authoring and Proofing Tools.
  • Check Vertical ruler under Show Window Elements.
  • Close the preferences pane to save your changes.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

You should now see the vertical ruler running down the left side of your document.

Expert Formatting Services

If you want to be sure your documents look perfect, our formatting services could be exactly what you need. All you need to do is add the ‘Formatting’ option when you upload a document for proofreading, then let us know what formatting to apply!

In Microsoft Word, Ruler is a useful tool for typesetting. But it’s not always shown by default. It’s better to toggle it on if you want to adjust the layout more intuitively. So, how to enable the horizontal ruler and vertical ruler in Word?

How to Enable the Horizontal Ruler

It’s very easy to add horizontal ruler to your document.

1. First, Switch to View tab

2. Select Ruler in Show section .

How to use rulers in microsoft word

How to Enable the Vertical Ruler

with only horizontal ruler, it may also cause inconvenience to users in typesetting. To enable vertical ruler in Word, just follow these steps:

1. First, open the document, click FileOptions.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

2. Choose Advanced. Stroll down the page to find Display section, then check the option of Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

3. Check your document, the vertical ruler should have been added on the edge of the page now.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

How to Hide the Ruler in Word

If you’ve done editing the layout and want a pure page without any added ruler, just go to View tab again and uncheck Ruler option in Show section.

In Microsoft Word the rulers’ units of measure can be changed, but not as quickly or easily as in some of its competitors such as LibreOffice Writer. In this article I’ll show you how to change the ruler units of measure in Microsoft Word for Windows and MacOS.

First, let’s look at how to display the rulers in MS Word. (Note: These instructions apply specifically to Microsoft Word 365, but may apply to certain earlier versions as well.)

How to display the rulers in Microsoft Word for Windows:

In Word for Windows the top horizontal ruler is displayed by default. If you do not see the ruler across the top of your document, click on View at the top, then in the Show section of the ribbon toolbar, check the box next to Ruler to display the ruler.

Tip: If you are working in MS Word for Windows and you have turned on rulers in Print Layout view but you don’t see the top menu, it may be that the ribbon is hiding the top of your document, and therefore your ruler, also. You can hide the ribbon by clicking anywhere in the document area or by clicking the menu title of the ribbon toolbar that is open. For example if the View ribbon toolbar is displayed, click View in the menu above the ribbon to hide the ribbon.

The left side or vertical ruler is not displayed by default and may need to be activated.

To display the left side ruler in Word for Windows

First, you’ll need to have Print Layout view activated. You can turn on Print Layout view by either of these methods:

  1. Go to the menu and open the View tab in the toolbar ribbon. In the first section on the left, select Print Layout.
  2. Look for three icons in the bottom bar toward the right side. The center icon that looks like a single sheet with lines is the Print Layout view icon.

With Print Layout activated:

  • Go to File > Options > Advanced.
  • Scroll down to the Display section.
  • Look for “Show vertical ruler in Print Layout View.”
  • Check that box to display.
  • Uncheck it to remove the vertical ruler.

How to change the units of measure in Microsoft Word for Windows:

  • Go to File > Options > Advanced.
  • Scroll down to the Display section.
  • About the fourth line down in the Display section, you should see “Show measurements in units of” followed by a drop-down box from which you’ll make your choice.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Change unit of measure in Microsoft Word for Windows.

How to display the rulers in Microsoft Word for MacOS:

In Word for MacOS the rulers are both displayed when View > Ruler is turned on and View > Print Layout is activated (in the ribbon or menu). If you do not see the vertical ruler on the left side of the window, do the following to activate it.

  • In the top menu, go to Word > Preferences.
  • Open the View section.
  • Look for the third section down, titled Show Window Elements.
  • Select Vertical Ruler.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Display the vertical ruler in Microsoft Word for MacOS.

If View > Web Layout or View > Draft is activated, only the top menu will display.

If View > Outline is activated, neither ruler will be displayed in Word on windows or macos.

How to change the units of measure in Microsoft Word for MacOS:

  • Go to Word > Preferences in the top menu bar.
  • Under Authoring and Proofing Tools, select General.
  • Look for “Show measurements in units of”.
  • Select your preferred setting from the drop-down box.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Change the units of measure in MS Word for MacOS.

That’s it! Now you know how to change the unit of measure for rulers in Microsoft Word for Windows and MacOS.

To find out how to do it in LibreOfficeWriter, see our article Easily Move From Microsoft Word to LibreOffice Writer.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Changing the Measurement Units for Your Word Documents (Inches to Centimeters or Vice Versa)

by Avantix Learning Team | Updated January 10, 2021

Applies to: Microsoft ® Word ® 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 and 365 (Windows)

You can easily change the measurement system units in Microsoft Word for all of your documents. If you’d prefer to work in inches rather than cm (centimeters) or vice versa, simply change the measurement system in Word’s Options. You can choose inches, centimeters, millimeters, points or picas. Changes in the measurement system will affect Word’s Ruler as well as various dialog boxes (including the Paragraph dialog where you can change paragraph indents).

Unless the client or publication has a specific requirement for a type of measurement, most Microsoft Word users measure in inches or centimeters. Word and most graphic design programs support points, picas and other units and it is easy to convert from one unit to another.

Do you want to learn more about Microsoft Word? Check out our virtual classroom or in-person Word courses >

Changing the measurement system in Microsoft Word

To change the measurement system in Microsoft Word from centimeters to inches or to another unit of measure:

  1. Click the File tab in the Ribbon.
  2. Click Options.
  3. Click Advanced in the categories on the left.
  4. Scroll down to the Display group in the panel on the right.
  5. Beside Show measurements in units of, choose inches, centimeters, millimeters, points or pics from the drop-down menu.
  6. Click OK.

Below is the Word Options dialog box with the option to change measurement settings:

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Below is the Ruler in Microsoft Word in inches:

Below is the Ruler in Microsoft Word in centimeters (cm):

If the Ruler is not displayed, click the View tab in the Ribbon and ensure the Ruler check box is checked.

Understanding points and picas

The two units of measurement most commonly used for typesetting and design are points and picas.

A point is equal to 1/72 inch (72 points in an inch). To be more precise, 1 point is equal to .013836 inch so 72 points are actually .996264 inch. This is rounded up for practical reasons. Points are the measurement unit most often used in printed publications created by graphic designers to indicate the size of type (font size) as well as the space between lines (this would be line spacing in Word but is called leading in many other programs). Points are often abbreviated as “pt”. Typographers would have traditionally referred to a type setting as 12/16 which would mean a 12 point type with 16 point leading or line spacing.

A pica is slightly less than 1/6 inch and contains 12 points. Picas are often used for fixed horizontal measurements (most often column width). They are commonly used by graphic designers when designing newspapers, magazines, newsletters and ads. Picas are often abbreviated as “p” (such as 16p). For example, the standard width for one column of text on a three-column grid on an 8.5″ x 11″ document is 14 picas and 4 points (normally abbreviated as 14p4).

Although most Microsoft Word users tend to use inches or centimeters as their preferred measurement system, points are used for font size and the space before and after paragraphs (in the Paragraph dialog box).

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How to use rulers in microsoft word

You can easily show the ruler in Word and then adjust the layout of your document quickly. Set up your tabs stops and your indents.

Some applications have features that you don’t give much thought to. A perfect example is the ruler tool in Microsoft Word. This handy tool can help you do more than line things up. You can create your tab stops, set up your left and right indents, and format a hanging indent.

To get started using the ruler in Word, we’ll show you how to display it and then set up these other items for your document layout.

Display the Ruler in Word

Enabling the ruler in Word takes just a few clicks. Go to the View tab and check the box for Ruler in the Show area of the ribbon.

You’ll then see the ruler display across the top and left side of the document.

Set Up Tab Stops

On the far left of the horizontal ruler, you’ll see the tab icon which looks like the letter “L”. Each time you click that icon, it changes to a different type of tab stop. In order, you can select left, center, right, decimal, and bar tab stops.

To set one, click the icon to get to the type and then click the ruler to place it. You can select the tab stop and move it along the ruler if you want to position it differently.

To remove a tab stop, click it, and drag it downward off of the ruler.

Set Left and Right Indents

You can set up your left and right indents in Word on the Layout tab. But you can also do this easily using the ruler.

Left Indent

On the left side of the horizontal ruler, you’ll see two triangular markers atop a square. To set the left indent, drag the square. This will also move the triangular pieces which you can use later for a first line or hanging indent if you like.

Right Indent

There is only one piece on the right side of the horizontal ruler. Drag this triangular marker to set your right indent.

Set First Line and Hanging Indents

Setting first line and hanging indents are two other convenient ways to use the ruler in Word.

First Line Indent

Many types of documents like essays or books use a first line indent. This indents only the first line of each paragraph. To set the first line indent with the ruler, drag the top triangular marker on the left side of the ruler to the right.

Hanging Indent

A hanging indent is basically the opposite of a first line indent. By setting this, each line in a paragraph is indented except for the first line. To set a hanging indent with the ruler, drag the top triangular marker on the left side of the ruler to the left.

Adjust the Ruler Settings

You can adjust a couple of settings for the ruler in Word if you like. You can show or hide the vertical ruler on the left and change the units of measurement for the ruler.

  1. To do either, click File > Options.
  2. Select Advanced on the left.
  3. Go down to the Display section on the right.
  4. For Show vertical ruler in Print Layout view, check the box if you want to display it.
  5. For Show measurements in units of, use the drop-down list to choose the unit type.
  6. Click OK.

How to use rulers in microsoft word

Take Advantage of the Ruler in Word

If you’ve never used the ruler in Word, it may take time to get used to it appearing in your document. But after a while, you won’t even notice it’s there. And it gives you a super quick way to adjust the layout for your document.

Along with using the ruler for tab stops and indents, you can use it to resize columns if you have a Word document that benefits from that layout. Have a look at our how-to for starting and ending columns in Word for additional help.