Tab Leaders (Part 3): Fill-In Blanks in Paragraph Text

In parts 1 and 2 of this series we dis­cussed insert­ing and for­mat­ting tab lead­ers in colum­nar text. The process of sep­a­rat­ing columns of text is extreme­ly straight for­ward: hit the TAB key on your key­board, high­light the result­ing tab char­ac­ter, and, using the Tabs Ruler palette (Text > Tabs in InDesign CS3 and Window > Text & Tables > Tabs in InDesign CS2 and ear­li­er), set a tab­stop that defines the end of the tab space. If, for instance, you insert a Right-Justified tab­stop at 2 inch­es, text after a tab will always line up at 2 inch­es. When you want to cre­ate clean, (rel­a­tive­ly) even columns of text with dis­tinct sep­a­ra­tion and dots, under­scor­ing, or some oth­er leader, that process works beau­ti­ful­ly. It’s not so pret­ty when you need fill-in text blanks with­in para­graph text, though (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

There are two types of tabstops–default and man­u­al. When work­ing with columns of text you need man­u­al­ly set tab­stops insert­ed and posi­tioned via the Tabs ruler palette. InDesign auto­mat­i­cal­ly includes default tab­stops every half inch. When you insert a man­u­al tab­stop, you simul­ta­ne­ous­ly clear out all the default tab­stops ahead of it. For instance, if you set a tab­stop at 2-inches, the three default tab­stops ahead of it–at 0.5-, 1.0-, and 1.5-inches–are erased; hit­ting the TAB but­ton once jumps text to the 2-inch tab­stop. Default tab­stops remain after the man­u­al one–stops at 2.5-inches, 3.0-inches, and so on. If you don’t insert any man­u­al tab­stops, all the defaults remain intact, one every half inch from one side of the text frame to the oth­er.

Although there are a cou­ple of ways to cre­ate fill-in text blanks in para­graph text, the one I pre­fer relies on default tab­stops.

  1. Begin with the para­graph text, insert­ing one tab per blank (see Figure 2). Note that your tab spaces will already be up to 0.5 inch­es wide. If you don’t see any of the tab spaces, or they appear too nar­row, don’t wor­ry. A sin­gle tab space will extend only to the near­est half-inch default tab­stop; if the tab begins at, say, 0.4 inch­es, the entire space will appear as only 0.1 inch­es. We’ll take care of any such short tabs momen­tar­i­ly.

Figure 2

  1. With all the need­ed fill-in blanks rep­re­sent­ed by sin­gle tab spaces, it’s time to cre­ate the under­scor­ing that will com­mu­ni­cate to the document’s view­er that she’s expect­ed to write in infor­ma­tion. Instead of lead­ers added from the Tabs ruler palette, we’ll use the cus­tomiz­able under­lines intro­duced in InDesign CS2 (and still in CS3 of course).Highlight one of the tabs–any one, but only the tab space itself–and open the Character palette/panel (Window > Type and Tables > Character). From the fly­out menu in the upper right cor­ner of the Character palette/panel, choose Underline Options, which will open the dia­log in Figure 3.

Figure 3 (click to zoom)

  1. In the Underline Options dia­log, check both the Underline On and Preview check­box­es. The for­mer enables under­lin­ing on select­ed text (the tab space in this case), while the lat­ter lets you see what you’re doing. In most cas­es, the default under­line options are exact­ly what you want for fill-in form blanks. It will be a sol­id rule line whose col­or, tint, and weight InDesign bases on the same attrib­ut­es assigned to sur­round­ing text; the off­set, the ver­ti­cal dis­tance of the under­line rel­a­tive to the text base­line, will also auto­mat­i­cal­ly com­pute to place the under­line appro­pri­ate­ly. Feel free to adjust any of the set­tings to get the per­fect look for your under­scores. Parentheses around option field val­ues (such as those you see back in Figure 3) indi­cate default or auto­mat­i­cal­ly cal­cu­lat­ed val­ues. The advan­tage to let­ting InDesign base one or more attrib­ut­es of the fill-in blank under­score on sur­round­ing text is that, should you change the text col­or or size, the under­score will auto­mat­i­cal­ly adapt to match.Once you’re sat­is­fied with the look of your under­scores, click the OK but­ton to leave the Underscore Options dia­log.
  2. Leave the now under­scored tab space high­light­ed and cre­ate a new char­ac­ter style on the Character Styles palette/panel. The char­ac­ter style cre­at­ed from the one tab space will become the tem­plate that under­scores the oth­er tabs. First, though, we need to make sure that the char­ac­ter style con­tains only the under­line infor­ma­tion. If the style retains oth­er for­mat­ting attrib­ut­es like the font fam­i­ly, lead­ing, and so on, it could cause prob­lems down the road if you decide to change the look of a para­graph con­tain­ing fill-in blanks.
  3. Double-click the new char­ac­ter style you just cre­at­ed to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly apply the style to the high­light­ed tab and open the Character Style Options dia­log.
  4. Rename the style to some­thing use­ful like “Fill-In Blank” or “Underscored.” Then, go to the Basic Character Formats pane. Does that pane list a Font Family and/or a Font Style? It almost cer­tain­ly does, and we don’t want that; the only attribute we want in this par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter style is the under­line so that the style may be applied to any text​.One at a time, high­light the con­tents of any field that isn’t emp­ty and press BACKSPACE (Windows) or DELETE (Mac) to clear the field. Leave the Underline check­box at the bot­tom select­ed (with a black check­mark) and the oth­er check­box­es as is (with grey marks). Move on to the oth­er panes in the Character Style Options dia­log (Advanced Character Formats, Character Color, and so on) remov­ing the con­tents of their fields.On the Underline Options pane you’ll see options iden­ti­cal to those in the Underline Options dia­log with which we were work­ing a moment ago. Don’t erase the val­ues in those fields.

    Click OK to com­mit your changes to the style and leave the Character Style Options dia­log.

  5. Apply the “Fill-In Blank” char­ac­ter style to all your tab spaces to under­line them as well. Now they’re all under­scored, but still prob­a­bly too short to be use­ful. Let’s work on their width.
  6. Because fac­tors like type size, col­umn width, and the amount of copy before a fill-in blank, among oth­ers, could cause prob­lems with man­u­al­ly set tab­stops, let’s avoid them entire­ly and rely on InDesign’s default tab­stops. To make a tab space wider, place your Text tool cur­sor imme­di­ate­ly after the first tab space and press TAB on your key­board again. The space should length­en by 0.5 inch­es and already be under­lined. If yours didn’t under­line, you missed the inser­tion point; undo and try again, mak­ing sure that the I-beam cur­sor direct­ly abuts the right end of the under­scored tab space before you insert anoth­er tab. Glyphs (includ­ing tabs) insert­ed direct­ly after text to which a char­ac­ter style has been assigned will inher­it the char­ac­ter style.Continue insert­ing tabs in this fash­ion until you have fill-in blanks of, or close to, their desired widths (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

  1. The best case sce­nario is that mul­ti­ple tabs on the default half-inch tab­stops will cre­ate fill-in blanks of ide­al width. If that isn’t the case, we need to do a lit­tle man­u­al tweaking.Tabs, although spe­cial, invis­i­ble char­ac­ters, can still be for­mat­ted like any oth­er char­ac­ter. If you need to slight­ly short­en or length­en a fill-in blank high­light one or more tabs and, using either the Character palette/panel or the Control palette/panel in Character mode, use the Horizontal Scale field to nar­row or broad­en the tab character(s). You can con­strict them down to 1% of the font’s em width or up to 9 times that width (900%). If you need greater adjust­ments, remove or add anoth­er tab and then adjust as needed.Although tempt­ing, don’t use the Tracking field to space out the tabs; it could intro­duce gaps in the under­scor­ing that may not be imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able on screen.

You can see in Figure 5 my com­plet­ed fill-in blanks (with sam­ple data).

Figure 5

Part 4 of the Tab Leaders series will show how to cre­ate nest­ed styles that auto­mat­i­cal­ly apply for­mat­ted tab lead­ers as you type.

Pariah Burke

Author, consultant, trainer, guru: Digital Publishing, ePub, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark. Empowering, Informing, Connecting Creative Professionals™