Friday, May 07, 2004


The Big Fella is not coming to the blogmeet. He hasn't been feeling well for most of this week and, whilst he's feeling considerably better now, will need to spend the weekend catching up on schoolwork ("Dedication, oooh dedication, dedication, that's what you need..." - Recordbreakers theme tune, mid 1980s). So that means a trip "up town" is out of the question for him... but not for me of course. I'll be there, with the proverbial "bells" on...

Keeping tabs on it...

Little did I realise how widely tabs were still being used in the realm of word processing (see post and comments below). I've even been asked to do a post on the use of tables as opposed to tabs. I'd like to, but must find a way to pitch it at the right level without being patronising and without preaching. I know that we all build up our own ways of doing things, and I don't want to alienate people by saying their way is rubbish - even if it so clearly is.... ;) - but I really believe that tables are so much more efficient and in the spirit of electronic, *ahem* "living" documents which will be distributed, edited, redistributed and re-edited a number of times.

Tabs are a throwback to typewriters, whose function was to produce a hard copy. Once printed, the process by which it came to be will be lost. Additionally, the typewriter treats the document as a series of lines, produced one at a time. In this context, tabs are obviously a handy way of lining up items in each line to produce a neat-looking tabular format.

Now, word processors on the other hand treat the document as a whole and, as such, are not restricted to the "line by line" approach.

Consider a simple example - a cv (and, for the record, I'm talking about Microsoft Word here...).
Say you have two addresses - a permanent address and an address for correspondence.
You want to show these addresses side by side on the document.

In the olden days, you'd have used tabs to achieve this - setting a tab stop halfway along the document, and typing as follows:

[first line of address one] *tab*
[first line of address two] *carriage return*

[second line of address one] *tab*
[second line of address two] *carriage return*

and so on.

Surely it's more "natural" to type in each address in its entirety? A table will allow this:

[first line of address one] *carriage return*
[second line of address one] *carriage return*

*tab* (the tab key will take you to the next "cell" along the table, or if you're at the last one on the right, will create a new row automatically)

[first line of address two] *carriage return*
[second line of address two] *carriage return*

This is the main point I'm trying to make - word processors allow you to treat the document as a "whole" rather than as a series of lines, and tables are to word processors what tabs are to typewriters (tab presumably comes from "tabular" anyway).

End of lecture

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