Indent Paragraphs: MS Word

Dennis Faas's picture

One way to format paragraphs is to indent them. Indentation refers to the distance a paragraph is set from the margin. You can set these indentation styles one at a time or in combination:

  • Left indent
  • Right indent
  • First-Line indent
  • Hanging indent

Word offers complete control over paragraph indentation. Like other formatting techniques, you can set indentation by using buttons, the Format | Paragraph command, or shortcut keys. But you can also set indentation by using various elements of the ruler.

Indentation is used either to set a paragraph apart or to make it easier to read. For instance, when you are quoting another work within a document, you often set apart a long quote by indenting the paragraph one-half inch on the left side, or both the left and right sides for a block quote.

The ruler contains 3 triangles and a square to control the indentation of a paragraph. To change the left indent, drag the square. Dragging the square moves both triangles on the left side at the same time. To change the right indent, drag the triangle on the left side.

You can also click the Increase Indent button on the toolbar to indent the left side of the paragraph 0.5 inch. Click repeatedly, and the indentation will increase by 0.5 inch each time. The shortcut key Ctrl + M does the same thing.

To reduce the left indent by 0.5 inch, click the Decrease Indent button or press Ctrl + Shift + M.

Set a First-line Indent

First-line indent is used in newsletters or books to signal the reader where a new paragraph begins. Of course, you could simply press the Tab key at the beginning of the paragraph, but you can control exactly how much to indent, or, if you forgot to press Tab, indent the paragraph after they're typed.

To set a first-line indent from the ruler or the Paragraph dialog box:

  • On the ruler, drag the First Line Indent (top) triangle to the right.
  • In the Paragraph dialog box, click the arrow next to Special and choose First Line, and then specify an amount in the By spin box.

Set a Hanging Indent

Hanging indent is used on numbered lists, where the second and subsequent lines are indented more than the first line. To set a hanging indent:

  • On the ruler, drag the Hanging Indent marker (the bottom triangle) on the left side) to the right.
  • In the Paragraph dialog box, click the arrow next to Special and choose Hanging, and then use the By spin box to specify an amount.

On the keyboard, press Ctrl + T. To remove a hanging indent, press Ctrl + Shift + T.

You can combine indentation options by using several of the previously mentioned techniques or by choosing Format | Paragraph to see the dialog box.

The Paragraph dialog box shows the settings for a paragraph with both left and hanging indentation. You can either type the measurements or click the spin boxes. The measurements are in inches, but you don't have to type the inch symbol ("). Notice that the setting for hanging indent is a distance inside and in addition to the left indent

Pro Tips

Don't use both a first-line indent and a space before each paragraph. Either one signals the reader that the paragraph is to begin; using both is overkill.

If a word is just a little bit too long so that it wraps to the next line at an awkward spot, you can fudge a little extra space by setting a negative indent, or "outdent." Drag the right indent triangle out a little bit into the margin until the word fits. This will affect only the current paragraph, so the regular margins will be in effect for the rest of the document. You can only use this option if the paragraphs have a ragged right edge though.

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