Creating Hanging Indents with Word

Creating a Hanging Indent with Word

When I teach Microsoft Word, I like to ask the participants if they know what a hanging indents is. Most times the answer is negative!

Even worse, 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 follows: A hanging indent, also known as a second line indent, sets off the first line of a paragraph by positioning it on the left 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 above:

An example of hanging indent found on the Internet

Personally, I have never seen this format used in a document. But that does not mean it’s not used in some types 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 example below is also a hanging indent but it looks much more attractive. The term Continual appears to describe the content of the indented paragraph across. 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.

Now, this is a cool example of hanging indent!

In this discussion we will refer to the term hanging as the defined term (above it’s Continual) and the discussion that follows as the definition. The definition is usually more than one line of text. Also, the defined term can be made of more than one word. However, doing this would require the definition to be further indented.

Understanding the paragraph markers

Hanging Indent Controls
Ruler Controls

Let us briefly discuss a very important (and often misunderstood) set of markers in the ruler.

  1. The marker labeled 1 controls the indentation of the first line of a paragraph only. It is called First Line Indent. In the past, it was popular to indent the first line but not the rest of the paragraph. You can drag it to the right or even to the left.
  2. The marker labeled 2 indents all lines except the first line and is called Hanging Indent. The very first example at the top of this article is an example of that type of indentation.
  3. The marker labeled 3 indents the left margin of the selected paragraph and is named Left Indent. This control is instrumental to creating cool hanging indents.

Creating a Hanging Indent

Microsoft Word makes it incredibly easy to create hanging indents. Follow the steps below:

  • Type a short defined term (about 6 or 7 characters) and hit the Tab key once. The insertion point moves to the next 0.5 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 happened. We will learn how to deal with this situation in a minute.
  • Now type the definition (2 or 3 lines) until the content wraps to the next line then press the shortcut 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.
  • If your definition is long, you may want to press Shift+Enter after a sentence. This inserts a soft return in your paragraph and continues on the next line’s indented margin. Great way to split a long definition in small chunks.
  • Hitting Enter will create a new paragraph but maintain the paragraph format (look at the markers in the ruler). This means you can immediately continue with another hanging indent by following the steps in the first two bullets above.
  • Once you are done typing hanging indents section, hit Enter then Ctrl+Shift+N to reset the style to Normal.

If the defined term is lengthy, the definition could look too close (or too far) from the defined term. You may want to adjust the distance between the defined term and its definition. In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is to press Tab again!

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

Custom distance for a hanging indent

As discussed above pressing Ctrl+T indents by multiple of half inches. However you can set the gap to any distance that suits your requirement. In the illustration below the user pressed Tab after the title Tiger. Simply drag the Hanging Indent marker (looks like a house) to the right (or to the left) to increase or decrease the distance from the defined term.

Once you have typed the hanging indent section of the document you likely want to return to the Normal style. The simplest way to do this is to hit Enter to create a paragraph then press Ctrl+Shift+N for Normal style.

Copying the hanging indent format to another paragraph

If you need to reproduce a similar set of hanging indents to another location of your document, Word can help to do that with the Format Painter. Follow the steps below:

  1. Start your new paragraph(s) with a defined term then hit Tab once.
  2. Click in a paragraph configured as the hanging indent you want to reproduce (no need to make a selection. Just click in it).
  3. Click Format Painter in the Home tab.
  4. Click the new defined term you typed earlier in step 1. Done!
  5. In the ruler and you will note that the hanging indent is located exactly at the same place as the paragraph in step 1 above.

Changing the indent distance for a sequence of paragraphs

Changing the spacing between the term and the definition in a sequence of hanging indents in your document is easy. All you need to do is to select every paragraphs by dragging down in the left margin then reposition the hanging indent marker in the ruler to increase or decrease the gap. The screenshot below illustrate this:

Hanging indents are not difficult to tame. However, like many things, you just have to know the rules.

New post soon!

I am putting the final touch on another post about creating dot leaders in word.

Daniel from ComboProjects


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

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.