How to create a hanging indent in MS Word

Citing of sources is a must in most, if not all, reading materials. Various citation styles require hanging indents to format your list of sources.

This is a common format commonly found in bibliographies, reference lists, and cited works.

Figuring out how to create a hanging indent is a necessity when you’re citing a source.

A hanging indent is basically the opposite of what we usually see in common paragraph indentations, where the first line is indented. When hanging indentation is used, the first line is not indented while the rest of the paragraph is. Formatting each line of your citation with hanging indents makes it easier to be distinguished from the others. It also allows your readers to quickly spot the citation details like the author names, publication dates and place, pages, etc.  

Now, there are about three ways to create a hanging indent in MS Word. 

3 Ways to Create a Hanging Indent in MS Word

  • Using the Ribbon
  • Using the Context Menu
  • Using the Ruler

We’ll cover all three methods in this tutorial while carefully expounding on each of the steps. This article was written with beginners in mind, so you don’t have to worry about confusing steps. 

The first method is the most elementary among the three, as it makes use of the Ribbon―the basic toolbar of MS Word. On the other hand, the other two methods allow you to create hanging indents in a more straightforward way. 

Having said that, let’s get started! 

Why Should You Create a Hanging Indent in MS Word?

Whether you are a student or a professional writer, there’s no escaping the fact that you must cite your references in your written work. Various citation styles require a certain format—be it a reference list, a bibliography, or works cited.

The common factor is that your sources should be formatted using a hanging indentation. 

This is why you should learn how to create a hanging indent in MS Word. This skill will save you a lot of time, especially if you cite sources regularly.

You might have been creating indents manually by pressing the spacebar, only to find out they’re not at all aligned. Well, you’ve come to the right place.

The hanging indent feature of MS Word allows you to configure your indentations with ease and accuracy. Furthermore, setting up hanging indentations can actually be done over multiple citations at once. 

That being said, here’s how you can create a hanging indent in MS Word.   

Method 1: Using the Ribbon

The MS Word Ribbon has got all the functions you need. The Ribbon is the basic toolbar of MS Word found at the top part of your window. All functions you have been using in MS Word are categorized by tabs and further grouped according to their use in the Ribbon. 

In this method, we’ll guide you through the steps to access the Paragraph dialogue box. Here’s how to do that. 

Step 1: Open up an MS Word document. 

First off, we will need to open a Word document. You can use a completely new word document so you can follow the steps below from scratch. Alternatively, feel free to use your own personal documents for this tutorial. If you make a mistake replacing certain texts incorrectly, simply press the Ctrl + Z keys on your keyboard to revert the changes. 

Step 2: Select the text. 

Carefully select the text or citations that you need to format. Note that you can create hanging indents over multiple lines of citations spanning over several pages. So, go ahead and select them.  

  1. Select the one or more source to format. 

Step 3: Go to the Paragraph group in the Home tab.

In the middle of the Ribbon, select the arrow icon at the bottom-right corner of the Paragraph group. This will launch the Paragraph dialogue box in the middle of your screen. 

Step 4: Create the Hanging Indent.

Once the Paragraph dialogue box has appeared, go to the Indentation section and click the Special: drop-down menu. Then select Hanging from the options. 

Also, you can specify the length of the indent by typing a number in the By: field. Note that, by default, this is in inches.

  1. Click the drop-down menu and select Hanging from the options. 
  2. Type a number to specify the length of the indent. 

Click the OK button once you’re finished. Otherwise, click the Cancel button if you want to revert any changes. 

  1. Click OK once finished. 
  2. Click Cancel to revert any changes. 

Method 2: Using the Context Menu 

The Context Menu comes in very handy, especially when you need to access a number of formatting tools right where your mouse cursor is at. In this method, we will show you how to access the Context Menu to quickly launch the Paragraph dialogue box.  

Here’s how you can do that.

Step 1: Open up an MS Word document

To get started, go ahead and open an MS Word document or, better yet, use your own personal document where you need to create hanging indents in. If you’re worried about messing up your document, don’t fret! The changes made here can easily be undone. 

Step 2: Right-click on the text.

Right-click on any part of the paragraph where you want a hanging indent applied. Notice that you did not have to select the whole paragraph in this step. 

Now, select Paragraph on the list of options. The Paragraph dialogue box will pop-up in the middle of your screen.  

Congratulations on launching the Paragraph dialogue box using the Context Menu. The steps are the same as the previous method from here on out. Simply select the measurements that you’d like the hanging indent to use and fill in the necessary options. 

Method 3: Using the Ruler

In this method, we will guide you through the steps to create a hanging indent using the ruler. First off, we need to make sure the ruler is visible

By default, the ruler should be visible when you open a Word document. Otherwise, you can show the ruler by going to the View tab and ticking the Ruler checkbox. 

  1. Click the View tab. 
  2. Make sure you tick the Ruler checkbox. 

Now that it is out of the way, let’s start using the ruler to create a hanging indent. 

Step 1: Open up an MS Word document

Before we get started, we need to open up an MS Word document and make sure we have paragraphs in it. Alternatively, feel free to use your own personal file if you have one that needs to be formatted. If you’re unhappy with the results, don’t worry as reverting these changes is fairly simple. Any damage to your document can easily be reverted by pressing the Ctrl + Z keys.

Step 2: Select the text.

Select the text that you need to format. You can select multiple lines of citations spanning over several pages at once.

  1. Select the one or more text to format. 

Step 3: Move the Ruler

Move your cursor to the left part of the ruler. Move the lower slider of the ruler to the right until the first vertical tick (0.5”). You can modify this by simply moving the slider to a specific measurement. 

Tip: When using the ruler, MS Word automatically detects a paragraph. This means you did not really have to highlight the paragraph. Instead, simply click on any part of it. We did so in this example, however, as we had multiple citations. 

There you have it! You’ve just created a Hanging Indent using the Ruler. 

Deleting Hanging Indents in MS Word

In this section, we will walk you through the steps of deleting your hanging indents in MS Word. You can use any of the three methods to delete your hanging indents. 

Using the Paragraph dialogue box

Follow the steps in the first two methods to launch the Paragraph dialogue box. Once it’s displayed, simply expand the Special: drop-down menu and select (none). Click the Ok button to confirm.   

  1. Select (none) to delete hanging indent. 
  2. Click Ok to confirm. 

Using the Ruler

To easily delete hanging indents using the ruler, simply select the text and move the lower slider back to the white leftmost part of the ruler. 


Now that you’ve reached the end of this article, hopefully, we’ve helped you figure out how to create a hanging indent in MS Word. Here’s a brief summary of the main topics we’ve discussed. 

Using hanging indents to layout various citations allows your readers to easily spot the breaks between them. Moreover, it helps your readers to quickly scan through the text entries in your source list. In this guide, we showed you three methods to do that. The first two methods make use of the Paragraph dialogue box to create hanging indentations. The Paragraph dialogue box offers several options to configure different indentations. Also, you can specify here the length of the indents more accurately.

The third method employs the ruler. This is the most direct way to create hanging indents as it moves your lines along while you are moving the ruler slider. All are equally useful ways on their own right, and learning all of these methods can come in handy the next time you manage a Word document.

We hope you found this article helpful!

Using Google Docs? Then check out this guide for creating hanging indent using google docs.

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