Creating a Hanging Indent with Word

When I teach MS Word, I like to ask participants if they know what is a Hanging Indents. Most times the answer is negative!

Even worst, when I google Hanging Indent with Word, the examples they show are not very appealing! Okay, so what is a hanging indent? Microsoft’s definition goes as follow: A Hanging indent, also known as a second line indent, sets off the first line of a paragraph by positioning it at the margin, and then indenting each subsequent line of the paragraph. The first line appears to be hanging in mid air, thus the name Hanging Indent.

Now there are two ways to understand this definition, let’s see two examples. Below is a typical hanging indent according to the literal definition discussed above:

Personally, I have never seen this format used in a document. But that does not mean it’s not acceptable in some type of documents. Maybe legal firms use that style of paragraph formatting.

To indent a paragraph as shown above, click anywhere in the paragraph (no need to make a selection) and hit Ctrl+T. You can press the shortcut more than once to add more indentation. To decrease the indentation add the Shift key to the shortcut. So Ctrl+T increases the indentation and Ctrl+Shift+T decreases the indentation.

Note that this MS Word shortcut increases the indentation by exactly 1/2 inch or roughly 13 millimetres.

The image below is also a hanging indent but it looks much more attractive. For example if you need to write a report for 5 categories of product, you could type the Category name then increase the left margin of the content.

Some people refer to the term hanging as the defined term (above its Continual) and the discussion that follows as the definition. The definition is usually more than one line of text. Of course the defined term can be made of more than one word. However, doing this will require that the space between the defined term and the definition is increased. You may want to use the defined term in the definition. This way the reader reminded about what is discussed.

Creating a Hanging Indent

In Microsoft Word it is incredibly simple to create this last type of hanging indents. Follow the steps below:

  • Type the defined term and hit the Tab key once. The insertion point moves to the next 1/2 inch mark in the ruler (depending on the length of the word). If the word you typed is four of five characters, it may seem that nothing (or very little) happened. We will learn how to deal with this situation after the bullet list.
  • Now type the definition (2 or 3 lines) until the content wraps to the next line. Press Ctrl+T to indent the definition. Type a bit more content for the definition. If the defined term(s) is a bit lengthy (more than 1/2 inch), you may need to hit Ctrl+T more than once.
  • Hitting Enter will move the insertion point to the next line but maintain the paragraph format (look at the markers in the ruler). This mean that you can immediately continue with another hanging indent by following the two steps above.
  • Once you are done typing handing indents, hit Enter then Ctrl+Shift+N to reset the style to Normal
  • If you’re definition gets a bit long you may want to press Shift+Enter after a sentence. This inserts a soft return in your text and continues on the indented margin. Great way to split a long definition in small chunks.

Depending on the length of the defined term you use, the definition may look too close (or too far) from the defined terms. You may wish to adjust the gap between the two elements. Recall that pressing Tab will move the left margin my 1/2 inch! What if you want to do a fine adjustment. In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is to press Tab more than once!

The easiest way to increase / decrease the distance from the defined term is to drag the paragraph marker in the ruler. Ensure that the insertion point is anywhere in the definition then drag the upper part of the marker across (or maybe to the left).

In the illustration below the mouse pointer is over the Indent marker (looks like a house). Drag it to the right or to the left to increase or decrease the distance from the defined term. Be careful to stay inside the ruler when you drag!

Once you’re done with your hanging indent section of the document you probably want to return to the Normal style. The simplest way to do this is to hit Enter to start a new paragraph then press Ctrl+Shift+N for Normal style.

Copying the hanging indent format to another paragraph

If you need to create another series of hanging indent in another location of your document document, it may be difficult to set it exactly the same way you did in the previous place. Word can help to do that easily using the Format Painter. The first thing to do is type that new paragraph(s) with a defined term. Remember to hit Tab then hit Ctrl+T once!

In the Home tab in the Paragraph group ensure that the Show/Hide button (with the symbol ) is enabled. Find a paragraph formatted as a hanging indent that you like and click anywhere inside it.

  • Using the mouse, select the paragraph mark found at the end of that paragraph (select only the symbol). Click on Format Painter in the Home tab.
  • Locate the paragraph in which you want to paste the hanging indentation configuration and simply click anywhere in that paragraph.
  • All you need to do now is to add the defined term for that new paragraph and hit Tab.


MS Office Trainer for 23 years. I am also an Access developer and I love teaching VBA in Excel.

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