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How to Do Indents & Hanging Indent on Microsoft Word

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This post is part of a series called Learn How to Use Microsoft Word (Beginner Tutorial Guide).
How to Add Page Borders for Microsoft Word Quickly With Templates
How to Quickly Create a Fillable Form in Microsoft Word

While preparing a document in Word, you may find yourself having to add a hanging indent or first line indent. They're used to set off one paragraph from each other. In that way, indents help make your document more pleasant to look at and easier to read.

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Word templates like this newsletter template can be modified by adding indents.

This tutorial shows you, step-by-step, how to add a hanging indent in Word. You’ll also learn the steps for adding a first line indent.

As you’ll soon see, you can use different methods to make indents and hanging indents in Word. I’ll walk you through each of those methods and when to use one or the other. Plus, I'll share a bit about how premium Word templates can help you work more quickly and produce a better-looking document.

Note: In this tutorial, I’m using Microsoft Word for Mac version 16.46. If you’re on a different version, the interface may look a little different for you.

What Is a Hanging Indent and Why Would You Use It?

A hanging indent is when the first line of the paragraph is flush at the margin, and all succeeding lines of the paragraph are indented. It’s also known as a “second line indent” and “reverse indent.”

Hanging indents are typically used in bibliographies, citations of works, and reference lists. They’re required by style guides like:

  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Associated Press Stylebook
  • Chicago Manual of Style
  • Modern Language Association (MLA)

Hanging indents are usually used in academic and scholarly works. But even in a business document, you may also decide to use hanging indents. They’re helpful because they visually separate citations, making it easy to quickly scan through the author names or works titles. 

First Line Indent: Another Type of Indentation

A more common kind of indentation is the first line indent. As the name implies, only the first line of the paragraph is indented. The rest of the lines are set to the left margin.

First line indents visually separate one paragraph from another. Now that word processing software like Microsoft Word makes it easy to increase the spaces between paragraphs, first line indents are no longer in popular use.

But the Chicago Manual of Style, APA, and other style guides still recommend first line indents instead of extra spacing between paragraphs. Check the style you’re using to know if you should use first line indents of paragraph spacing.

Let’s get started by making a hanging indent in Microsoft Word.

How to Make a Hanging Indent in Word

There are three methods you can use to make a hanging indent. In this section, I'll explain the steps for each method:

Method 1. Keyboard Shortcut

This method is fast and easy. It’s best to use this method if you’ve already typed or pasted all the citations in your document. The keyboard shortcut for a hanging indent is Cmd+T in Mac and Ctrl+T in Windows.

By default, the succeeding lines are indented by 0.5 inch. If that’s what your style guide recommends, then you can use this method.

1. Click and drag the mouse to select the text where you’d like to apply the hanging indent.

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2. Type the Cmd+T (Mac) or Ctrl+T (Windows).

The selected paragraphs now have a hanging indent, with succeeding lines indented by 0.5 inch (the default).

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Method 2. Paragraph Format

If you want more control over the hanging indent, then use this method. As with the first method, this works best after you’ve typed or pasted the citations into your document. Here are the steps:

1. Select the text.

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2. Go to Format > Paragraph.

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The Paragraph settings window opens.

3. Beside Special, open the dropdown menu, and select Hanging.

The Paragraph settings window opens.The Paragraph settings window opens.The Paragraph settings window opens.

4. Specify the amount of indentation you want. Then click OK.

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Note that the indentation is now only 0.25 inch, as I specified.

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Method 3. Paragraph Styles

Another way to add a hanging indent in Microsoft Word is by using paragraph styles. Use this method if you’ll be adding more citations to the document later.

1. Follow the steps in either Method 1 or 2 to add a hanging indent to a paragraph.

2. With the cursor on the formatted paragraph, go to Format > Style.

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The Style settings window opens.

3. Click New.

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The Create New Style from Formatting window opens.

4. Give the new paragraph style a name.

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Look at the paragraph preview and Microsoft Word indent settings to make sure they’re what you want. If everything looks the way you’d like them to look, click OK.

5. Back in the Styles window, click Apply.

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Now all you've got to do is apply the Citation paragraph style to new citations.

Whichever method you choose to create a hanging indent, new paragraphs will automatically have a hanging indent. After you’ve applied the hanging indent, follow these steps: 

Place the cursor at the end of an existing citation. 

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Hit the Return key, then type or paste the new citation on the next line. It'll automatically have a hanging indent.

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How to Make a First Line Indent in Word

There are three ways to make a first line indent. Here are the steps for each method:

Method 1. Tab

This is the simplest way to create a first line indent. But it’s not a convenient method to use if you’ve already typed the entire document. It’s also more suitable for shorter documents with just a few paragraphs.

1. Place the cursor before the first letter of the paragraph.

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2. Click the tab key.

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Now the first line has been indented to the first tab of the document.

When you hit return at the end of the paragraph, the next paragraph you type will automatically have a first line indent as well.

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The next two methods for adding a first line indent in Word are more suitable for longer documents.

Method 2. Paragraph Format

This method works well for longer documents after you’ve typed or pasted the text.

1. Select the text.

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2. Go to Format > Paragraph.

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The Paragraph settings window opens.

3. Beside Special, open the dropdown menu and select First Line.

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Specify the amount of indentation you wish to apply, then click OK.

Now all the selected paragraphs have first line indents.

how do you do a first line indent on wordhow do you do a first line indent on wordhow do you do a first line indent on word

Method 3. Paragraph Styles

This method of adding first line indents is good for long documents that already use paragraph styles.

1. Follow any of the previous methods to add a first line indent in an existing paragraph.

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2. With the cursor on the paragraph, right-click on the style name on the ribbon.

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3. Click Update Normal to Match Selection.

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Now all paragraphs with the Normal style will have a first line indent.

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3 Tips for Using Indents in Word

Style guides recommend hanging indents and first line indents because they make documents easier to scan and read. Microsoft Word helps you create indents easily, but as with other features, indents can be abused and misused. Keep these tips in mind to make sure you’re using indents properly.

1. Stick to One Style Guide

Follow one style guide and use it consistently in the entire document. Don’t mix up styles! Your school or business may specify which style guide you should use. If not, pick one and stick to it.

You may also decide to create your own style guide for your business or organization. If you do, remember to document it well so that anyone in your team or institution will be able to create documents that follow your style.

Study the tutorial below for tips on how to write your document:

2. Choose Only One Way to Separate Paragraphs

Don’t use both first line indents and paragraphs spacing. If using first line indents, don’t put extra spaces between paragraphs.

And if you’ve placed extra spaces between paragraphs, don’t use first line indents. Use only one way to separate paragraphs from each other.

When in doubt, follow the style guide you’re using.

3. It May Not Be Necessary to Indent the First Paragraph

Some experts say some paragraphs don’t need to have a first line indent. For example, if a paragraph is preceded by a title or heading, then a first line indent is unnecessary to set the paragraph apart from it.

Again, follow the recommendation of the style guide you’re using. Whatever you decide, apply it consistently throughout your document.

The Easiest Way to Create an Impressive Word Document: Use a Word Template

Microsoft Word delivers robust features and tools at your fingertips. But there’s an even easier way to create an impressive document in Word. That’s by starting with a template for Word. 

Whatever type of document you’re creating—whether it’s a resume for job hunting, a brochure to promote your services, or the invitation to your child’s birthday party—you’ll find hundreds of Word templates that meet your needs.

Templates for Word at Envato ElementsTemplates for Word at Envato ElementsTemplates for Word at Envato Elements
Thousands of Word templates are available at Envato Elements.

The best source of templates for Word that I know of is Envato Elements. You’ll find thousands of Word templates that are designed by professional graphic artists. This means the biggest and hardest design decisions have already been made for you! All you have to do is to personalize the text, images, and colors to align with your branding. You can even change the design and layout if you’re inclined to do so.

With millions of creative assets for various types of projects, Elements offers tremendous value. Get unlimited downloads for one small monthly subscription. That includes unlimited downloads of Word templates as well as fonts, stock photos, graphics, and so much more. And you can cancel your subscription at any time.

Elements is a valuable tool to use in your MS Word workflow. It’ll cut down the amount of time you spend hunting for creative assets you need in your document.

Use Microsoft Word Indents to Create an Effective Document

You've just learned how to do a hanging indent on Microsoft Word. Hanging indents and first line indents are only two of the ways to make your document visually pleasing and easier to read. 

Microsoft Word indents make your document attractive by visually separating paragraphs from each other. Hanging indents make it easy to scan through a list of references or citations. But first line indents give readers a visual cue of where each paragraph begins. Note that you don’t have to use first line indents if you’ve already added spacing between each paragraph.

You can also have a terrific-looking document by building it from a Word template. Professionally designed templates, like the ones you’ll find in Envato Elements, have the design decisions made for you. At the same time, you’ll still be able to change the formatting settings as you see fit. To get unlimited downloads of templates for Word and other creative assets, get an Elements subscription.

Whether creating a Word document from scratch or starting from a Word template, follow the steps in this tutorial to create a first line indent or hanging indent in Word.

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