You can use your keyboard’s tab key to manipulate a cursor in a document, worksheet or an online form. The tab key, short for tabulator or tabular key, helps you move the cursor to the next tab stop, such as in a column or a table. This tab key and a keyboard shortcut move the cursor in a left, right, up and down direction. Learning to use this tab key comes especially handy when you want to minimize hand strain caused by repetitive motion on the mouse.

Microsoft Word

The tab key moves the cursor several spaces forward, such as indenting the first line of a new paragraph. The Microsoft Word program, for example, enables you to adjust the tab stops along the horizontal ruler above your document viewed in Print Layout or Web Layout. These tab stops on the ruler set the cursor’s location on the document. For example, click the "3" inch marker on the ruler to insert a tab stop, and then click in your document and press the "Tab" key to move the cursor along the line to the new tab stop.

Word's Page Layout

As an alternative for setting tab stops, click the "Page Layout" tab on Word’s command ribbon, and click the tiny arrow button in the Paragraph group to launch the Paragraph dialog box. Click the "Tabs" button to open the Tabs dialog box and select the preferred tab settings, click "Set" and then click "OK" to update the page layout. To view the tabs in this document, click "Home" on the ribbon and then click the "Show/Hide" button in the Paragraph group. The hidden formatting symbols, including the tab stops, will display on your document, but will not show in printouts. To hide these formatting marks, click "Show/Hide" to return to a more streamlined look on your document.

Microsoft Excel

You can adjust the how the tab key moves the cursor on an Excel worksheet. For example, click a cell, and press "Tab" to move the cursor one box to the right on the horizontal row. Click "Shift-Tab" one key at a time to move the cursor to one box to the left on the same row.

To move the cursor down a column, click the column header, such as "B" to highlight this column, and then press "Tab" to highlight and move the cursor down one cell. Press "Shift-Tab" one key at a time to move the cursor up one cell in the column.

Microsoft Outlook and Computerized Forms

The tab key also helps you navigate to the next field or box on an online form. When you’re preparing an Outlook email message, for example, press "Tab" to move the cursor between fields, such as from the "To" box to the "Subject" box to the body of your message. Press "Shift-Tab" to move the cursor to the previous field.