Hanging Indents in Microsoft Word

What’s a hanging indent? (Who comes up with these terms, anyway?)

Whenever you want a paragraph with character(s) to the left (such as a bullet, a number, or some other character), anything to the left of the paragraph is said to be “hanging” next to an indented paragraph—you have a hanging indent. 

Even if you don’t know what it’s called, Microsoft Word takes care of making them for you automatically. Nice! All you have to do for a numbered hanging indent is to type the number, a period, and a space. Word will automatically change the format to a hanging indent for you.

Word assumes, however, that you’re only going to use one character to hang to the left—like a bullet:


You could, however, have a numbered list, which often goes past 9, such as:


Notice that in the above example, the number “10” is crowded in the same space allotted for the first nine numbers. With some fonts and point sizes, you won’t have enough space for two numbers, a period, and a space—and your paragraph won’t be aligned with the indented paragraphs above it:


Yikes! The first line of the last paragraph isn’t aligned with the rest of the indented paragraphs!

To fix this, you need to increase the amount of space that’s been allowed for the numbers. The easiest way to do it is by moving the indent markers in the ruler, for all the numbers in your list. You want to do this so that all the paragraphs line up.

Step 1. Select all the paragraphs in your list:


Step 2. At the top of your screen, you’ll see a ruler line. To the left of the ruler, you should see indent markers:


Select the bottom square of the marker on the right, and move to the right to the next ruler mark:


In the picture to the left, the pointer is moving the indent marker (the box on the bottom) to the right by one ruler tick mark. You can see the shadow of the original place.


Step 3. Now move the left indent a little more to the left, to the ruler tick mark at the left. (This is actually the same place where the indent originally started.)

move-left-indent-marker In the picture to the left, the left marker has been moved to the left. You can still see the shadow of the original place.


The final result:

Hanging indent final.jpg

Note that the marker for the hanging indent lines up with the numbers, and the paragraph indent marker lines up with the indented paragraphs. Beautiful!

The proper way to do this, though, is by using the Paragraph command, and changing the hanging indents “by the numbers.”

Hanging indents can most easily be understood by looking at the ruler at the top of the page in a Word document. These paragraphs use two types of indents you should understand:

  1. The First Line Indent
  2. The Paragraph Indent

A paragraph can either start at the left margin, or can be indented any amount you specify. The whole paragraph can be indented, or you can indent just the first line. When only the first line is indented, you can set a first line indent. When you indent an entire paragraph, that is called a paragraph indent. Here are some examples:

First Line Indent

This is the first line of a paragraph in a document. There’s nothing special about this paragraph, except that the first line is indented ½ inch to make it easier to read.

The paragraph settings for this type of paragraph might look like this:

First line indent.jpg

Paragraph Indent

This entire paragraph is indented. You might see this in a document that is quoting               someone. It is an effective way to set apart a paragraph for special attention.

The paragraph settings for this type of paragraph would look something like this:

Paragraph Indent.jpg

Hanging Indents

  1. Hanging indents are most often used when creating a numbered list, or even a list with bullets.
  2. You might have additional lines in your list.
  • Bullet lists are another type of hanging indent
  • These are easier to use if you’re just listing something without having to have numbers to refer back to.

Hanging indents, then, use both a paragraph indent, and a hanging indent. The paragraph settings for hanging indents look like this:

Paragraph settings for standard hanging indent.jpg

 Adding Indent Space for Two-Digit Lists

Numbered lists that go past nine often need more space for the numbers, as noted above. You can change this with the Paragraph command, by increasing both the paragraph indent and first line indent numbers. In most cases, adding about 1/8” is enough. For example, the paragraph settings for a bigger hanging indent could be:

Paragraph settings for increased hanging indent.jpg

Just make sure that both the paragraph indent and the hanging indent numbers are the same, if you want the number to go back to its original position. You’ll notice that, when you increase the indent amounts, the numbers have plenty of space. Also, note that the hanging indent actually goes backwards (to the left of) the paragraph indent.