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How to make a hanging indent in Word

There are several reasons to use hanging indents when writing. Proper use of hanging indents include numbered or bulleted lists, citations, and dialogue lines in scripts. Here’s how to make a hanging indent in Word.

This works in Word 2013, Word 2016, and virtually any other version of Word you’re likely to be using.


How to make a hanging indent in Word

The hanging indent functionality hides in a couple of places you wouldn’t normally think to look for it–a little arrow in a corner of a dialog box, and in a menu that comes up when you right-click. That’s the secret of how to make a hanging indent in Word.

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. Microsoft Word makes lists rather easy, creating the hanging indent for you. In any version of Word you’re likely to be using, it can even do it automatically for you. Just start typing, starting with a number and a period, and Word will format it for you and set you up with your next number. When you’re finished with the list, just hit enter twice, and Word will remove the blank number and go back to formatting text as normal.

For a bulleted list, precede the first item on your list with an asterisk character and a space, like this:

* item 1

Word will convert it to a bullet for you and create the next one for you. When you’re done with your list, hit the enter key twice. Word will remove the blank bullet and return to normal formatting. Niceties like this set modern word processing apart from the old days.

If you prefer, Word also has icons on the home tab in its ribbon to create lists for you. Simply click the icon that looks like a numbered list or bulleted list, depending on which type you want. If you highlight some text before you click the icon, it will convert the highlighted text to a list.

Adjusting list indents

If you need to adjust how much it indents the list, click one of the numbers or bullets to highlight them, then right-click one of them and select Adjust list indents. This brings up a dialog box where you can adjust your alignments precisely.

Make a hanging indent in Word manually

If you need a hanging indent that isn’t part of a list, you’ll have to make a hanging indent manually. That isn’t hard to do, and there are three ways to do it.

This lets you make paragraphs that look like this, useful for citations, bibliographies, and scripts:

Farquhar, David L. Optimizing Windows for Games, Graphics and Multimedia. 
     Cambridge: O'Reilly and Associates, 1999.

How to make a hanging indent in Word with the context menu

The easiest but perhaps least intuitive method to make a hanging indent involves your mouse and Word’s context menu.

You can start by simply typing your text normally. Then highlight the paragraph, right click, and select Paragraph. In the section marked Indentation, click the Special drop down list to select Hanging. Select the value you want from the dropdown. The most common value is .5 inches.

How to make a hanging indent in Word using the ruler

The most common way to manually make a hanging indent in Word, I think, is to use the ruler. Click the View tab on the ribbon, then check the box to enable the ruler if it’s not already showing. There are two tabs on the left side of the ruler. Normally we drag the marker on the top over to the right to make Word indent the first line of the paragraph. If you drag the lower marker to the right, Word indents the subsequent lines of the paragraph instead.

How to make a hanging indent in Word with the dialog box

How to accept all changes in Word

Pro tip: Any time you can’t find something in Microsoft Office, look for those arrows in the lower right hand corner of sections of the ribbon. That’s usually where what you’re looking for is hiding.

The other way to manually make a hanging indent in Word is to pull up the paragraph dialog box via the ribbon. On most versions of Word, this hides on the Home tab in the paragraphs section. Click the little arrow in the lower right hand corner of the paragraphs section to open the Paragraph dialog box. Click on the Indents and Spacing tab. In the section marked Indentation, click the Special drop-down list, select Hanging and choose the value you want. The standard is .5 inches.

Which method should you use? The mouse is probably the fastest method, but use whichever one you can remember. When I first learned Word in the early 1990s, the ruler was the fastest way to do it so I tend to do it that way out of habit. Use whichever method works for you.

Solving other problems in Word

A lot of common problems in Word have relatively easy solutions. Here are some examples:

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