Tab Key Does Not Change List Level in Microsoft Word

I was recently working on an assignment that needed to be typed up in an outline format. Using Microsoft Word 2007, I was very annoyed when I found that I was not able to use Tab to move to the next list level. For example, if I was typing up an outline like this:

A. 404 Tech Support

1. Tech News

2. Hardware and software reviews

3. Documented solutions

B. Jason’s Other Works

1. Nerd News

After I finished typing “A. 404 Tech Support” I would hit enter and that gives me “B.”. I would then hit Tab and it should change the “B.” to “1.”. Instead, to my frustration, it just tabbed over 5 spaces in front of “B.”. You can change the list level directly by clicking the down arrow next to the ordered or unordered list buttons on the Home tab and going down to “Change list level” where you select the level you’d like it to be.

Buried deep in the settings, there is an option that will allow the Tab key to work as expected. I’m not sure how it got switched off but it seems AutoFormat might prompt the setting to be changed at some point.

You’ll find the setting if you click on the Office button inside of Word (top-left corner) and then go down to Word Options.

From the window that pops up, click ‘Proofing’ on the left side. Under the AutoCorrect options click the Change how Word corrects and formats text as you type: “AutoCorrect Options…” button. Another window will pop up.

On the AutoCorrect Options window, select the AutoFormat As You Type tab (note there are two different tabs “AutoFormat” and “AutoFormat As You Type”). Near the bottom, check the second to the last box “Set left- and first-indent with tabs and backspaces” and hit the Ok button.

After closing the Word Options window, you should be returned to your document and find that tabbing works as expected to change the list level in an ordered list.

Pro-Tip: You can use the Tab key to move to the right and a more specific point in a list but you can also hold down the Shift key and then hit Tab to move to the left and a higher level bullet.

From the example above, after I typed out A3 “Documented Solution”, I hit enter and this gave me “4.”. I hit shift+Tab and this outdented it to the left and changed it to “B.” so I could type Jason’s Other Works.

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