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A hanging indent is used to position the first line of each paragraph against the margin, with each further line indented. If you want to add hanging indents to a Microsoft Word document, here’s what you’ll need to do.

You’ll see hanging indents applied when you add bibliographies in Microsoft Word to satisfy the style guide requirements of certain types of academic documents. You can use hanging indents for any reason, however, as they allow you to emphasise the start of each new paragraph for clarity.

RELATED: How To Automatically Add Citations And Bibliographies To Microsoft Word

Adding a Hanging Indent to a Microsoft Word Document

A hanging indent can be applied to individual paragraphs or to the document as a whole. Applying a hanging indent will keep the first line in the usual position, square against the margins of your document, with each further line indented inwards.

An example of hanging indents applied to multiple paragraphs in a Microsoft Word document

If you want to apply the hanging indent to a single paragraph, place your blinking cursor in that paragraph of text first or select the paragraph as a whole. You can also apply the setting to several blocks of text at once by selecting multiple paragraphs.

If you want to apply this setting to your entire document, you’ll be able to do this at a later stage. For now, you can place your blinking cursor anywhere in your document.

Example text from a Microsoft Word document, with one paragraph selected.

Once your text is selected, click the “Home” tab on the ribbon bar. From here, select the “Extra Options” icon in the bottom-right corner of the “Paragraph” section.

Under the "Home" tab, press the additional options button in the bottom-right corner of the "Paragraph" section.

This will open the “Paragraph” settings window. Click the “Special” drop-down menu, listed under the “Indentation” section of the “Indents And Spacing” tab.

From here, select the “Hanging” option.

Select "Hanging" from the "Special" drop-down menu in the "Paragraph" options window.

You can choose how much the text is indented by changing the sizing in the “By” box next to this setting, with sizing shown in centimeters.

A preview is shown at the bottom, allowing you to view how the text will look once the setting is applied.

Change the depth of the indentation using the "By" box, with sizing in centimeters.

Applying a Hanging Indent to Selected Text Only

If you want to apply the hanging indent setting only to the text you’ve selected, click the “OK” button at the bottom of the “Paragraph” settings window.

This will ensure that any text you’ve not selected is unaffected by any changes you’ve made here.

A sample of text from a Microsoft Word document, with a hanging indent applied to the first paragraph.

Applying a Hanging Indent to the Entire Document

If you want to use this setting as the default across your current document (or all future documents), click the “Set As Default” option at the bottom of the “Paragraph” window instead.

You’ll be asked whether you want to apply this change to your current document or apply it to all future documents. Select either the “This Document Only” or “All Documents Based On The Normal.dotm Template” options, then click “OK” to confirm your choice.

If you choose the “This Document Only” option, the hanging indent will be applied to all of the text in your current document. If you choose the “All Documents Based On The Normal.dotm Template” option, a hanging indent will be applied to your current document, as well as all future documents you create.

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Ben Stockton is a freelance tech writer from the United Kingdom. In a past life, he was a UK college lecturer, training teens and adults. Since leaving the classroom, he's been a tech writer, writing how-to articles and tutorials for MakeUseOf, MakeTechEasier, and He has a degree in History and a postgraduate qualification in Computing.
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