How to Create a Hanging Indent in Word

Get the formatting right for references, works cited, and bibliographies

You're probably familiar with the practice of indenting the first line of a paragraph within text. It's a common style for fiction and academic papers. The opposite, outdenting, is common with bibliographical references and other citations. It's also the default setting for bulleted or numbered lists. In this article, we describe how to create a hanging indent correctly.

This article applies to Word 2019, Word 2016, Word 2013, and Word for Office 365.

Set Up a Hanging Indent

Here are the basic steps for setting up a hanging indent.

  1. Open your document. Select the paragraph you want to have the hanging indent. On the ribbon, select Home.

    Home menu in Word
  2. In the Paragraph group, select the dialog box launcher.

    Paragraph Settings in Word
  3. In the Paragraph dialog box, select the Indents and Spacing tab.

    Indents and Spacing tab in Paragraph settings in Word
  4. In the Indentation section, select the Special dropdown menu and choose Hanging.

    Special menu in Indent menu in Word
  5. Under By, enter a positive value using quarter-inch increments.

  6. The Preview section at the bottom of the dialog box shows how your text will look.

    Preview Window in the Paragraph menu in Word
  7. Select OK.

    Paragraph settings in Word with the OK button highlighted
  8. The paragraph you selected now has a hanging indent.

    If you place your cursor at the end of the paragraph and press Enter on your keyboard, the new paragraph has a hanging indent as well.

    MS Word showing two paragraphs with hanging indents
  9. Alternatively, you can set a hanging indent using the ruler just under the ribbon. If you don't see it, on the ribbon select View.

    Word with the View heading highlighted
  10. In the Show group, select Ruler.

    Ruler option in Word's View menu
  11. Select the paragraph you want to have the hanging indent. Move the bottom (up-arrow) slider on the ruler to shift the text in the second row and below.

    A Word document with the indent markers on the ruler highlighted

Use a Hanging Indent for References, Works Cited, or Bibliography List

The correct formatting for references, works cited, and bibliographies involves the use of a hanging indent. Here's how to create it.

  1. Open your list. Highlight one or more entries that you would like to have a hanging indent.

    MS Word with Works Cited list in document
  2. Right-click. From the menu, select Paragraph.

    Option menu in Word with the Paragraph setting highlighted
  3. In the Paragraph dialog box, in the Indentation section, select the Special dropdown menu and select Hanging.

    Hanging option in the Paragraph menu of Word
  4. Under By, select a positive number in quarter-inch increments.

    By menu in Word's Paragraph section
  5. Select OK.

    OK button in Word's paragraph menu
  6. The entries you selected reflect the hanging indentation.

    MS Word with Works Cited document using hanging indentation

Apply Hanging Indent to a Style

A style is a collection of formatting properties, such as bold, italics, double spacing, color, size, etc. You can add a hanging indent to a style, which you can later use instead of going through the process above each time you want to create a hanging indent. Here's how to do it:

  1. Open your document. On the ribbon, select Home.

    Home menu in Word
  2. In the Styles group, right-click the Normal style.

    Normal option in Styles menu in Word
  3. From the menu, choose Modify.

    Modify option in Word's Styles menu
  4. In the Modify Style dialog box, in the bottom-left corner, select the Format dropdown menu and choose Paragraph.

    Format menu in Modify Style menu
  5. In the Paragraph dialog box, choose Hanging under the Special menu and set the distance for your indentation.

    Special and By menus in Paragraph
  6. Select OK in each open window to save your changes and close them.

    OK button in the Paragraph menu.
  7. The hanging indent is applied to all text that uses the selected style.

    MS Word with all paragraphs using a hanging indent