How To Add a Hanging Indent in Word: A Comprehensive Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published October 8, 2021

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.

Certain types of writing often require specific formatting. When creating reference pages or working within a legal document, writers rely on the use of hanging indents. If writing is part of your job, you may want to learn how to complete word processing tasks such as creating a hanging indent. In this article, we explain the purpose of a hanging indent and the steps you can follow to add one to a Word document.

What is a hanging indent?

A hanging indent, also called a second line indent, is a formatting option that emphasizes the first line of a paragraph by positioning it at the margin and then indenting each subsequent line of a paragraph. Many individuals, including students and professional writers, need to know how to add hanging indents to their work. For example, a college student might need to add a works cited page to an essay. Professional writers often use hanging indents to format text like bibliographies, reference pages and works cited pages. They're also used in legal writing to create legal outlines and lists.

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Why are hanging indents used?

Writers most often use hanging indents for reference, bibliography or works cited pages. Often, professional and academic style guides require that writers include these pages with certain types of writing and also require that they use hanging indents in the reference page formatting. These reference pages are lists of citations that describe information about sources used in the writer's work, including the name of the author, the publisher, the date of publishing and other details.

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How to add a hanging indent to a Word document

You can follow these six basic steps to add a hanging indent to a Word document:

1. Choose where you want to insert a hanging indent

The first step to creating a hanging indent is to choose the spot where you want to start the indent. Use your mouse to highlight the text where you want to apply the hanging indent. For example, if you're working on a bibliography, you can highlight your citation.

2. Use your mouse to right-click

After you've highlighted your text, use your mouse to right-click on it. This action causes a pop-up menu to display in a window on your screen. Depending on what type of computer you use, you might also use a keyboard shortcut in place of the right-click action.

3. Select the "Paragraph" option

The pop-up menu includes a "Paragraph" option. Click on this option to select it. The "Paragraph" option allows you to change the style and format of the paragraphs in your document.

4. Locate the "Indentation" option and choose "Hanging"

After selecting the paragraph option, choose the "Indents and Spacing" page and navigate to the "Indentation" section. Use the pull-down menu to choose the "Hanging" option. In most versions of the application, this pull-down menu is located under the "Special" header. Choosing this option sets a hanging indentation on your highlighted text.

5. Set the indentation depth

Setting the indentation depth is optional, but many style guides require a specific indentation measurement. In the same "Paragraph" dialog box, you can use the "By" field to set your indentation depth in inches. For example, if you're creating a bibliography, you might set your indentation to a half-inch.

6. Click "OK"

Once you're done setting your indentation, be sure to click the "OK" button. Clicking this button applies the chosen indentation to your highlighted text. After clicking the button, the pop-up menu closes, and you can look over your work to see if you're satisfied with the results. If you're satisfied, you can save the document. If you want to try again, you can undo your work and repeat the steps.

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Benefits of hanging indents

There are many benefits of using hanging indents, including:

Fulfilling style requirements

Many writers use hanging indents to fulfill the requirements of styles like Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA) style. These style guides require hanging indents as part of a reference or works cited page.

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Increasing visual appeal

Adding hanging indents to documents can also improve their organization and visual appeal. It can make it easier for readers to distinguish between different sections of the page, particularly in a saturated page of text like a bibliography. It can also add white space to documents, which can make them appear more balanced and visually appealing.


Using a hanging indent can also increase the readability of a document. This formatting can make it easier for readers to distinguish between different citations. Often, citations can blend together, as they usually contain fragmented phrases and characters, and a hanging indent can visually separate different citations. Using a hanging indent can also make the names of authors easier to spot, as they're usually found in the first line of a citation, which isn't indented.

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Tips for using Word

Here are some additional tips for using Word:

Explore the application

Explore your word processing software to experiment with functions and learn more about its different capacities. Knowing where to find different tools can allow you to complete tasks more quickly. This can also help you create documents more efficiently.

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Take an online course

Enroll in an online course that teaches you how to use word processing and other applications. These courses can develop your knowledge and give you firsthand experience using computer applications. Coursework can help you feel more comfortable using these programs.

Advance your computer literacy skills

Find ways to advance your comprehensive computer literacy skills. You can improve these skills by reading books, taking courses and practicing using applications. After advancing these skills, you can also add them to your resume.

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

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