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Picking Up The Tab

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ClarisWorks 3.0, ClarisWorks 2.0, MacWrite Pro, MacWrite II

Platform: Macintosh, Windows

The Macintosh was the first desktop computer which could print out what you see on the screen. Older computers would simply display the text, no matter what font (if, indeed you could use more than one font) in a display which looked like a typewriter and had codes for things like centering and boldface. The Macintosh was the first computer to have a display that showed you what the page actually looked like as you were working on a document. This is called "WYSIWYG" (pronounced, wiz-zee-wig). It stands for "what you see is what you get." As wonderful as WYSIWYG is, however, it also has its price.

Printout vs. screen

Since the Mac was invented, printers have become a lot better. The original ImageWriter could print at a resolution of 72 dots per inch. The original Mac screens were 72 dots per inch. That worked fine. Most of the current printers, including the Apple StyleWriter and LaserWriter, print at a much higher resolution. This produces text which looks similar to that which is printed in a magazine or a book. Screens are still usually about 72 dots per inch. That also means that text on the screen no longer exactly matches what the printer can print. It's close, but not exact. However, when text doesn't appear on a paper printout the way you want it, it may not be solely because screen and printer resolutions don't match. That's where the finer points of word processing come in.

When you type text in a word processor like MacWrite or the ClarisWorks word processing environment, text automatically wraps at the end of a line. You don't have to hit the return key to have your text flow to the next line, unless you want to put text on separate lines. The text you type is automatically contained within the margins. This feature is known as "text wrap." Sometimes, you want to bypass text wrap to create special effects in your documents. For example, in the flyer announcement illustrated in Figure 1, you would want specific words on specific lines, with the whole thing centered between the right and left margins of the page.

To center text, you first type each line, hitting return at the place where you want each line to end. Then you select (also known as highlight) the text. Lastly, you have to tell the application to center the text between the right and left margins of the page. To do this, while the text is selected, click on the center alignment tool in the ruler.

The centering text example above illustrates all the basic things that need to happen when you are formatting your text in a word processing environment. First you type, then you boss your text around.

To get really fancy, you have tabs. Once you get acquainted with these, you can really boss your text around.

Why computers replaced typewriters

To format documents on an old manual typewriter, you would slide the tab markers into place on the machine itself, and each time you typed a carriage return, the little bell would ding, then when you hit the tab key, the carriage would go to that spot where you set the tab marker. On your computer, tabs are a little more powerful. You have four kinds of tab, instead of just one. In fact, without being aware of tabs, you may even be tempted to use multiple spaces to simulate those neat and tidy tabs of the typewriter. The problem with using spaces instead of tabs to align text is that spaces and character sizes aren't always uniform for most fonts or typefaces. You'll want to stick with tabs to create uniform alignment in your word processing documents.

Tabs vs. spaces

It is important to understand the difference between using tabs and spaces to format documents. On an old manual typewriter, each character takes up the same space. The letter "i" takes up the same space across the page as the letter "w" would. On your computer, through the use of fonts, characters on the screen are more professionally spaced, the way that they would appear in a book or magazine. This is referred to as proportional spacing. This means that letters are automatically spaced on a page in proportion to the particular character. Therefore, an "i" gets less horizontal space than a "w" would. Take a close look at the word shown below and notice that each character gets a different amount of space.

If you used spaces to align text blocks typed in the same typeface, things might look close-to-aligned using spaces on the screen, but when they print, they'll be out of alignment. How does this relate to tabs? Well, if you use spaces to format a page, the spaces won't be equal to a particular number of characters. Five spaces doesn't automatically equal five characters because the characters are different widths. Also, because of variation in font size and style, changing the font may not improve alignment. Therefore, if you want to align something on a page, use tabs or the alignment tools, not spaces typed with the space bar. Tabs are a fixed distance from the margin and the alignment tools format the text as a block, regardless of the font.

As with most things, there are exceptions to this. Two standard fonts, Courier and Monaco, ship with the Macintosh computer. They are what is known as monospaced fonts. They behave exactly like text produced on a typewriter. Each character is exactly the same width. A space is exactly the same width as one character. Here's the same word we used earlier displayed this time in the Courier font. Notice how each character takes up the same amount of horizontal space.

Because these fonts are monospaced, they tend to look unattractive when printed. However, the advantage to using a monospaced font is that it lets you use spaces to align your text, because all characters take up the same amount of space. In other words, with a monospaced font, a row of 12 periods measures the same amount of space as 12 capital W's. You cannot get the same result with proportionally spaced fonts, such as Times.

Tabs to the rescue

Tabs can apply to just one line or they can apply to the whole document. Once you learn the basics about tabs, you'll never again be tempted to use spaces to format your text in your word processor.

There are four different kinds of tabs available to you in MacWrite Pro and ClarisWorks. These tools are located in the upper left hand corner of your screen. They are the four triangles below the ruler.

When setting tabs in ClarisWorks 2.0 or later and MacWrite Pro, you can use the "Show Invisibles" command to show exactly where the tabs and spaces are placed in a document. Tabs appear as non-printing arrows that point to the right and spaces appear as non-printing dots. To show these invisibles, hold down the Command key and hit the semi-colon. To turn this off, hold down the Command key and type a semi-colon again. The great thing about all of this is that it allows documents to have multiple tab settings within a document, so that you can have a table or a specially formatted section for emphasis in special areas of your document.

The Left Align Tab

The Left Align tab tool is used to align the left sides of the lines in a text block. The heavy black bar on the triangle is on the left side. By default, each new document opens with Left Tabs preset at half-inch increments (they do not appear on the Ruler Bar).

The Center Align Tab

The Center Align tab tool is for centering the block of text you type at the center marked by this tool.

The Right Align Tab

The Right Align tab takes the blocks of text you type and aligns them on their right edges.

The Align On Tab

The Align On tab is used in conjunction with a character you specify (typically a decimal point). When you use this tab, you can align a block of text you type so that it aligns at a specified character where you placed the tab on the Ruler Bar. This is most often used with listings of currency or numbers with decimal values.

Setting tabs

Remember, you first have to select the text you want to work with, then choose the tab you want. If you want to apply a custom tab setup to a block of text, highlight the text first, then place the tabs in the ruler. To place the tabs, simply click and drag one of these tab triangles and place it along the Ruler Bar where you want your text to align. If you set the tabs before highlighting a block of text, the computer will "think" that everything after the tab setting should be set this new way. It won't change the existing parts of the document unless you tell it to do so by highlighting the text first, then setting your tab.

Don't forget that you can update tab positions by highlighting the appropriate text and moving a little triangle tab marker icon along the Ruler Bar.

Getting fancy with tabs

Now that you know more about tabs, there are some fancy things you may want to try with your new tab knowledge.

Create a tab leader

Tab leaders are fill characters between tabs. You have probably seen tab leaders in a table of contents section in a book, where you have a topic, then a page number, with a dotted line between the two. (See Figure 8.) Note: To create a table of contents in a MacWrite Pro document, you can use the Table of Contents feature instead of tabs.

To create a tab leader in either MacWrite Pro or ClarisWorks, follow these steps:

  1. In your document, set your tabs using the above techniques. In the example, a Left Tab is used.
  2. Select the block of text that contains tabs.
  3. Double-click on the tab icon indicated for that block of text.
  4. In the Tab dialog box that appears, select the fill character. The text that has tabs will now have tab leaders.

The same steps can be used in MacWrite Pro, but the Tab dialog box is different in that you can specify any tab fill character.

Bossing your text around

Formatting your text with tabs, you are on your way to having great looking documents. Simple alignment tasks can be achieved using the four kinds of tabs that are available in MacWrite Pro and ClarisWorks. Have fun bossing your text around!

See Also