How To Apply A Hanging Indent In Word: A Comprehensive Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Hanging indents are a formatting style where the first line of a paragraph starts at the margin and all subsequent lines begin half-inch away from the margin. Hanging indents make it easy for readers to distinguish between consecutive references, citations and bibliographies and quickly identify the author's name or title of work. Knowing how to apply hanging indents is helpful when writing an academic research paper or similar document that follows a particular citation style. In this article, we explain hanging indents and explore different ways to apply a hanging indent in Word.

What Is A Hanging Indent?

A hanging indent is a paragraph indentation style that indents all lines of a text block except the first one. When you create a hanging indent, the first sentence begins at the margin and each following line starts at a distance of 1.27 cm (0.5 inches) from the margin. Also known as reverse indent or a second line indent, writers use hanging indents for reference lists in various citation styles like American Psychological Association (APA), Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) and Modern Language Association (MLA), making it easy for the reader to distinguish between one entry and the next.

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Ways To Create A Hanging Indent In Word On A Windows System

You can manually create a hanging indent in Word by pressing the space bar five times before each new line. Since that can get tedious, word processing software like Microsoft Word provides a special feature to apply hanging indents to all or a block of text automatically. Here are a few methods to apply the indentation features available in Microsoft Word:

How to create a hanging indent using paragraph settings?

You can follow these steps to apply a hanging indent using paragraph settings:

  1. Highlight the text or paragraph you wish to indent.

  2. You can press enter once after every citation when you have multiple entries. This ensures that all first lines begin at the left margin and the rest of the text away from the margin.

  3. Next, right-click to select the desired text and choose Paragraph.

  4. In the Indents and Spacing section, navigate to the Special drop-down menu item and select the option Hanging.

  5. You can use the By setting to alter the indent depth. By default, the standard indent depth is 1.27 cm which equals half an inch.

  6. Click Ok to apply the indent and complete the action.

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How to create a hanging indent using the ruler?

In this method, you can use the ruler feature available in Microsoft Word to apply hanging indents to your text. If the ruler is not visible on the screen, you can navigate to the View tab and click the checkbox for the ruler available under the Show panel. You can follow the steps given below to apply the indent using the ruler:

  1. Highlight the text or paragraph to which you wish to apply the hanging indent.

  2. Use the ruler to drag the upper triangular marker to indent the first line of the text. Position this marker to where you want the first line of the text to start.

  3. The standard measurements on the ruler are in inches, where 1 inch equals 2.54 cm.

  4. Drag only the upper triangular marker to indent the first line. Dragging both upper and lower triangular markers together indents the entire paragraph.

  5. Similarly, the lower triangular marker can position the subsequent lines.

While this method allows you to indent lines visually, the drawback is that applying the standard indent measurements becomes difficult as you drag the ruler manually. You can use the second method when applying non-standard hanging indents and the first for standard indents.

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How To Create A Hanging Indent In Microsoft Word On A Mac Device?

You can use the following steps to create a hanging indent in Microsoft Word while working on a Mac device:

  1. Highlight the paragraph to which you want to add a hanging indent.

  2. Next, go to the Format tab and select the Paragraph option.

  3. Under the Special feature, choose Hanging from the drop-down menu.

  4. You can adjust the indent depth by using the By field. Increase or decrease the value to modify indent depth.

  5. Select Ok to apply the indent and complete the action.

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How To Add A Hanging Indent To An Unordered List?

An unordered list contains short text snippets separated by line breaks. Here are the steps to add a hanging indent to an unordered list:

  1. Highlight the entire list, except the first line.

  2. Navigate to the Home tab and select the Paragraph dialogue box launcher.

  3. Navigate to the Indentation feature and move the arrow to 0.5 inches in the Before option. Note that 1/2 inch is the standard value for hanging indents in various citation styles.

  4. Select the arrow beside the Special feature and select the First line option.

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How To Clear A Hanging Indent?

You can use the following steps to remove a hanging indent from a paragraph:

  1. Select the Home tab and click the Paragraph dialogue box launcher.

  2. Under Indentation, select the arrow next to Special and click None.

This removes the hanging indent from the paragraph and restores it to the default formatting style.

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When To Use A Hanging Indent?

Hanging indents make it easy for the reader to understand a block of text and helps them distinguish between multiple entries in reference lists or bibliographies. The three main style guides require hanging indents for the following pages:

  • Cited pages in MLA style

  • Reference pages in APA style

  • Bibliographies in Chicago style

Benefits Of Using Hanging Indents

Here are a few benefits of using hanging indents in your word documents:

Fulfils style requirements

The primary purpose of hanging indents is to meet APA, MLA and Chicago citation style requirements. These styles require hanging indents for references, bibliographies and citations. Depending on the style you follow for your research paper or other academic and professional documents, you might apply hanging indents to different sections of the paper.

Enhances visual appeal

Adding hanging indents to word documents increase their visual appeal by making the content organised. It makes it easier for readers to differentiate between different sections of the page, especially when the page has plenty of similarly structured text, like in a bibliography. It also helps add white space to the document to make it more balanced and visually appealing.

Improves readability

Hanging indents can also help in improving the readability of the document. It makes it easier for readers to perceive different parts of a section. Often, when you list multiple citations or references one after another, they can appear cluttered and clumsy, negatively impacting readability. Using hanging indents make it easier to spot the names of authors or books, as the first line of each citation is separate from the rest of the text.

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Tips For Improving Your Expertise In Word

Here are a few tips to improve your proficiency in Word:

  • Explore the application. Spend time familiarising yourself with the different word processing software tools to understand their various features and capabilities. Knowing how to locate the right tools quickly can help you complete a wide range of tasks.

  • Enroll in an online course. You can consider joining an online course or webinar that helps you learn advanced skills in Word. These courses provide you with theoretical knowledge of Word and also help you gain firsthand practical experience using the various features of the word processing software.

  • Complete a professional certification in Word. A Word certification helps you advance your skills and adds value to your resume. You can include the certification details on your resume to distinguish your profile from other candidates.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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