The hanging indent is required formatting in various style guides, including APA, Chicago, and MLA. However, though many universities and publishers are quick to point this out, they may not necessarily tell you how. Today, then, we’re going to show you how to do a hanging indent in Word so you can get your work up to scratch.

What is a hanging indent?

A hanging indent, sometimes called a second line indent, is the practice of offsetting the second and subsequent lines of a paragraph. This indentation is typically five spaces, which translates to half an inch.

Hanging indents are most used in the bibliography in academic papers to allow the reader to easily see the breaks between citations. You can see the difference between a regular paragraph and one with a hanging indent below:

Microsoft Word Hanging Indent example

With that explanation out of the way, here’s how to create a hanging indent in Word:

How to Add a Hanging Indent in Word via Paragraph Formatting

This is the quickest way to add a hanging indent to a paragraph if it’s a one-off thing. After this point, you can follow the sections below to make it more easily repeatable.

  1. Select your paragraph and open the paragraph dialog in the “Home” tab

    You can select your paragraph by clicking and dragging over it. You’ll find the paragraph flyout by clicking theButton image icon in the bottom right of the paragraph section.

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Paragraph - Dialog Box

  2. Open the “Indents and Spacing” tab and set the “Special” indentation dropdown to “Hanging”

    Word will automatically set the indentation to the default hanging indent spacing of 0.5″(1.27cm).

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Paragraph - Dialog Box - Indents - Special - Hanging

  3. (Optional) Adjust the hanging indent size

    You can change how far the text is from the left of the page by changing the number in the “By:” field.

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Paragraph - Dialog Box - Indents - By 0.5

  4. Check the preview and press “OK”

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Paragraph - Dialog Box - Indents - Special - By - Accept

  5. Check how it looks in your actual document

    The results can look different to the preview depending on other formatting factors.

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Paragraph - Dialog Box - Indents - Special - By - Accept - Result

  6. (Optional) Adjust the hanging indent in Word by enabling the Ruler

    To turn the ruler on, open the “View” tab of your ribbon and press “Show > Ruler”.

    Windows 11 - Word - View - Show - Ruler

  7. Select your paragraph and move the second ruler marker to change your indent size

    Windows 11 - Word - View - Show - Ruler - Select Paragraph - Move Bottom Slider

How to Create a Hanging Indent in Word for References, Works Cited, or a Bibliography List

As we mentioned earlier, you’ll be using hanging indents most often when citing sources. Here’s how to do a hanging indent in Word in a way that applies it to your entire citation list.

  1. Select your references, right-click, and choose “Paragraph…”

    Windows 11 - Word - Paragraph

  2. Open the “Indents and Spacing” tab and set “Special:” to “Hanging”

    This should automatically apply the indentation of 0.5″, but you can manually change the “By:” field if necessary. Press “OK” to apply the changes.

    Windows 11 - Word - Paragraph - Indents and Spacing - Special - By - Accept

  3. Word will indent the second line of each of your citations

    Windows 11 - Word - Paragraph - Indents and Spacing - Special - By - Accept - Result

How to Indent the Second Line in Word via a Style

If you often write academically, it’s worth setting up a formatting style in Word with the hanging indent applied to it. Once it’s set up, you can insert a hanging indent in Word in a single click. Here’s how:

  1. Open the “Home” tab of your ribbon and right-click a style

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Styles - Normal

  2. Choose “Modify…” in the context menu

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Styles - Normal - Modify

  3. Change the name of the style to “Hanging indent” and press “Format > Paragraph”

    If you can’t find the format button, it’s at the very bottom of the modify style window.

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Styles - Normal - Properties - Name - Format - Paragraph

  4. Open the “Indents and Spacing” tab and set “Special” to “Hanging”

    Word will automatically set the indent to 0.5″ (1.27cm). You can press “OK” to save the changes to the style.

    If you want to use the style on different documents, tick “New documents based on this template” before you press “OK”.

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Styles - Normal - Properties - Name - Format - Paragraph - Indents - Special - By - Accept

  5. Select the paragraph you want to change and click on your style in the ribbon to add a hanging indent

    Windows 11 - Word - Home - Styles - Normal - Properties - Name - Format - Paragraph - Indents - Special - By - Accept - Result

Extra: How to Double Space in Microsoft Word

Now that you know how to do a hanging indent in Word, you may want to make other adjustments to meet the style guide. Another common requirement is double spacing. You can follow our guide on how to double space in Word to get that ironed out.

Windows 11 Word Design Paragraph Spacing Double

Extra: How to Add Page Numbers in Word

Many style guides also ask for page numbers so that readers can reference part of your text. You can follow our guide on how to add page numbers in Word to set that up.

Windows 11 Word Insert Page Number Bottom of Page Plain Number