How to Create a Hanging Indent in Word

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

The practice of indenting the first line of a paragraph is 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. Here's how to create a hanging indent correctly.

Instructions in this article apply to Word for Office 365, Word 2019, Word 2016, and Word 2013.

Set Up a Hanging Indent

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

  1. Open the document, select the paragraph you want to format as a hanging indent, then go to the Home tab.

    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 drop-down arrow and choose Hanging.

    Special menu in Indent menu in Word
  5. In the By text box, enter a positive value using quarter-inch increments.

  6. The Preview section at the bottom of the dialog box shows how the 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 has a hanging indent.

    Place the cursor at the end of the paragraph and press Enter to create a new paragraph with a hanging indent.

    MS Word showing two paragraphs with hanging indents
  9. Alternatively, you can set a hanging indent using the ruler (located under the ribbon). If you don't see it, go to the View tab.

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

    Ruler option in Word's View menu
  11. Select the paragraph that will 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. Highlight one or more entries that you want to have a hanging indent.

    MS Word with Works Cited list in document
  2. Right-click the highlighted text, then select Paragraph.

    Option menu in Word with the Paragraph setting highlighted
  3. In the Paragraph dialog box, go to the Indentation section, select the Special drop-down arrow, then choose Hanging.

    Hanging option in the Paragraph menu of Word
  4. In the By text box, enter 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, and size. 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 the document, then go to the ribbon and 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, go to the Name text box and enter a new name for the style.

  5. Select the Format drop-down arrow and choose Paragraph.

    Format menu in Modify Style menu
  6. In the Paragraph dialog box, select the Special drop-down arrow and choose Hanging. Then, set the distance for the indentation.

    Special and By menus in Paragraph
  7. Select OK in each open dialog box to save your changes and close the dialog boxes.

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

    MS Word with all paragraphs using a hanging indent