Hanging Indent in Word: Definition and How to Create One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 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.

Specific types of professional and academic writing may require the use of certain formatting elements. When creating a legal document or making pages to include your references in an academic paper, a writer may use a hanging indent. Understanding what a hanging indent in Word is and how to use it can help you create readable documents and maintain consistency in your work. In this article, we define what a hanging indent in Word is, explain why people use it, share how to create one and discuss its benefits.

What is a hanging indent in Word?

A hanging indent in Word is a formatting option that emphasises the first line of a paragraph. A hanging indent positions the paragraph at the margin and indents the rest of the lines within the paragraph. Some people may also refer to a hanging indent as a second line indent because of how this formatting option begins indentations at the second line of a paragraph.

Related: Top 15 In-Demand Technology Skills (Plus Definition)

Why use a hanging indent?

Writers typically use hanging indents for references, bibliographies and works cited pages. Professional and academic style guides require writers to include these pages with certain types of writing and also require that they use hanging indents in the formatting of reference pages. These reference pages are lists of citations that describe information about sources a writer uses in their work. Some examples of this information include the name of the author, the publisher, the date of publishing and other details.

It's important for many individuals, including students and professional writers, to know how to add hanging indents to their work. For example, a university student might require adding a works cited page to an essay. Professional writers often use hanging indents to format text like bibliographies, reference pages and works cited pages. Hanging indents are also common in legal writing to create outlines and lists.

Related: Clerical Skills: Examples and How to List Them on Resume

How to add a hanging indent to a document within Word

Here's a list of steps on how to add a hanging indent to a document within Word:

1. Select the paragraph for which you want to create a hanging indent

The first step to adding a hanging indent to a document within Word is to select the paragraph for which you want to create one. For example, imagine you have a citation for which you want to create a hanging indent so that you can abide by an academic style guide. Even if you have multiple citations, begin by selecting a single paragraph so that you can ensure that the formatting works properly.

Select the paragraph by moving your cursor to the left of the paragraph's first letter and clicking on the empty space. While keeping the left button down, drag your cursor to the right of the last letter in the paragraph. You can notice that you've now highlighted your desired paragraph.

2. Open the formatting pop-up menu

Once you highlight your desired paragraph, right-click on it using the right button on your mouse. After right-clicking on your desired paragraph, you can see a pop-up menu appear. Depending on what operating system you're using, you may be able to produce this pop-up menu using a keyboard shortcut.

Related: How to Become Computer Literate and Improve Your Skills

3. Choose the 'Paragraph' option

Once you produce the pop-up menu using the right-click button or a keyboard shortcut, you can see a list of options. Locate the option that reads 'Paragraph', and click on it. Now that you've opened the 'Paragraph' option, you can adjust the formatting and style within your Word document.

4. Select the 'Indentation' option

Within the 'Paragraph' pop-up menu, find the page that reads 'Indents and Spacing'. Navigate to the 'Indentation' option. You can use the menu that appears to select the 'Hanging' option. Whether you're using an older or newer version of Word, you can likely find the 'Hanging' option within the 'Special' header. Once you select this option, you can notice that the programme edits your highlighted paragraph so that it has a hanging indent.

5. Establish the measurement for your indentation

When you complete the previous step, Word establishes an indentation depth of one-half inch by default. This default option is the standard depth in many style guides, so you may choose to keep it. If you don't have a standard to abide by and want to experiment with different indentation depths, you can change the depth. Within the 'Paragraph' pop-up box, navigate to the 'By' field. Enter a custom indentation depth in inches.

6. Finalise your changes

If you choose to establish a custom indentation depth, you can click on the 'OK' button in the bottom-right of the pop-up screen. You can notice that this action applies your changes to your highlighted paragraph. If you're satisfied with the changes, you can repeat steps one through six for other citations or paragraphs. If you want to change the indentation depth, you may highlight your desired paragraph once again and change the numerical value in the 'By' field for your hanging indentation.

Related: 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume

Benefits of using hanging indents

Here are some key benefits of using hanging indents:

Improves readability

Hanging indents can improve the readability of a references section. These elements accentuate a paragraph's first line, so a reader can easily view the beginning of each citation. This convenience can make it easier to locate information, such as an author's name, when reading a long document full of citations.

Increases the visual appeal of a document

Hanging indents often make a document more visually appealing. They can reduce overcrowding and improve the document's organisation. These elements also create more white space, which creates a sense of balance and makes it easier for a viewer to read and comprehend all the provided information.

Related: Common Examples of Skills and Steps to Identify Them

Fulfils stylistic and formatting requirements

Some individuals who are seeking a university education write academic papers that abide by specific style guides. Several style guides, including the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA) style guides, require the use of hanging indents for citations. When you know how to add this kind of formatting in Word, you can fulfil the requirements for an assignment. In the professional world, you can abide by common industry practises and ensure your work has consistency.

Tips for using Word

Here are some additional tips for using Word:

Explore the program

A simple thing you can do to gain optimal use of Word is to take some time to explore the program. You can experiment with the application's various functions and formatting features. You may choose to create a new blank document so that you can make edits without risking the loss or permanent altering of information. Once you feel more comfortable with using Word, you can create your intended document and begin adding information and making edits.

Related: What Computer Skills Are Employers Seeking (Plus Examples)

Take an online course

You may find a free or paid online course that teaches you how to use specific features. Depending on what online course you take, you may receive instruction or have the opportunity to practise specific skills in a simulated online environment. Upon completing an online course, you may complete a certifying exam if applicable. After passing the exam, you may earn a certification that shows your knowledge of Word. You can include this certification on your resume to show your qualifications to an employer.

Seek continuing education

Word is constantly undergoing updates, so you may seek continuing education to remain knowledgeable of its most current features. Your place of employment may offer training if the company uses Word regularly. You can also watch videos online, review study guides and blogs and read books on this program.

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

Explore more articles