Career Development

Steps to Creating a Hanging Indent in Google Docs

September 25, 2020

It's common to use certain text styles depending on what you're writing or who is reading your work. One text style involves using a hanging indent. You may want to use a hanging indent for research papers or a list article, among other instances. In this article, we share what a handing indent is, when to use a hanging indent, how to make a hanging indent in Google Docs and the benefits of using a handing indent.

Related: How to Make a Resume on Google Docs: Steps and Tips

What is a hanging indent?

A hanging indent, sometimes called an outdent or negative indent, is when your first line is the only one that's coming into contact with your page's left margin. The second line of text and beyond are indented to the right. This lets your first line stand out a little more from the others and is a text formatting style that is appealing to readers. The amount of indentation doesn't necessarily matter as long as the first line remains next to the margin and the rest of the lines in a paragraph or the entire document don't.

A hanging indent differs from a common indent because, with a common indent, the first line of the paragraph is what's indented and the rest of the lines remain next to the left margin. Google Docs is just one word processor that allows for hanging indents.

Related: How to Format a Cover Letter (With Tips and Examples)

When to use a hanging indent

Many people use a hanging indent in their academic writing and reports that require you to cite your sources. Different writing styles use a hanging indent too, including CMS (Chicago Manual of Style), APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association). You may use a hanging indent on a reference, works cited or bibliography page or even within text when you're creating lists.

Related: 7 College Resume Tips (With Examples)

How to make a hanging indent in Google Docs

Google Docs is a web-based word processor that's a part of Google's suite of products they make available to its users. A Google Doc is helpful for collaboration and being able to store your projects online for you to access whenever you need to. As a word processor, you can create documents within Google Docs that are almost just like what you'd create on a word processor that's not web-based, like Microsoft Word.

When you're writing within Google Docs, you may need to use a hanging indent. Here is how it's done in the program:

1. Use Google Docs to make a document

The first place to start with a hanging indent is with a document you have created. Type out your paper, report, list or any other document before creating a hanging indent within the text.

2. Reveal your ruler

You may have unknowingly hidden your Google Docs ruler during prior sessions, so if you don't see the ruler at the top of your document between your toolbar and text, make sure to display it. If your ruler isn't visible, navigate to "view" in your menu bar and check the "show ruler" option. This is a crucial part of creating a hanging indent.

3. Select your text

In the next step, select the text you want to indent. You can highlight anything from a single paragraph to an entire document. You can even choose to highlight only certain paragraphs within a document, although you will need to do this one paragraph at a time, creating a hanging indent for each one separately.

4. Use your left indent marker

This is where it's important to have your ruler visible. On the ruler you'll notice two small, light blue upside-down triangles; these are your indent markers, one on the left and one on the right. You're able to move your indent markers by clicking and dragging them with your cursor. In this step, move your left indent marker towards the right to where you want your hanging indent to begin. A common indent is half an inch indented.

Another way to move your left indent marker is by navigating to "format" in your menu bar, then "align & indent," followed by "indentation options." In that pop-up box, you can choose "hanging" from the Special Indent section. You also have the option to select how large of a hanging indent you need, although the default setting is at 0.5 inches. Once you have selected the value of your indent, click on the apply button to change your text document.

You can also create a hanging indent with a keyboard shortcut. To perform this action, put your cursor where you need a hanging indent in your document. Press the Return and Shift keys at the same time. This will create an invisible line break. Then, tap the Tab key and your line will indent. If you prefer keyboard shortcuts and you're only indenting a couple of lines, then this may be the best option for you. You'll have to perform this action on every line that needs a hanging indent, so it's best for shorter sections.

5. Move your left margin control marker back

In the previous step, a small, light blue horizontal rectangle may have moved with your indent marker. This rectangle is called the left margin control marker or first line indent marker. In this step, you'll want to move this marker all the way back to the left margin.

If you are creating a hanging indent for the entire document, you should only have to perform these steps once. However, if you are only selecting certain paragraphs or blocks of the document, you'll need to complete these steps for each instance of a new hanging indent.

6. Do not move the margin

When creating a hanging indent, try to only move the left indent marker and the left margin control marker while keeping the margin where it is. The margin is gray and appears all the way to the left of your document. It spans your document vertically. If you made the mistake of moving your document's margin, click on "edit" in the menu and then click on the "undo" option that appears before trying your hanging indent again.

Benefits of using a hanging indent

Just like other formatting styles, there are benefits to using a hanging indent in your document. They include:

  • You can follow a specific style guide. If you need to follow a certain writing style in your document that incorporates a hanging indent, then using one can make sure that your writing as you should.
  • A hanging indent is easier for the reader. A hanging indent makes it a little easier for your reader to both read through and quickly scan your document.
  • You have space to use your margin. If you plan on printing your document, you can add notes, graphs or any other supporting information or reference points in the space between the margin and the indented paragraphs.
  • A hanging indent separates entries. If you are creating a list or typing out references, a hanging indent can separate entries enough so this part of your document is still clean and your references receive the spacing they need.
  • You can save time. A benefit to using a hanging indent is that you don't have to spend too much time trying to align lines of your document together using the Tab key or spacebar. While this method may work, your document could be more prone to human error and misalignment, and you'll also have to do the entire process over again if you change one thing.