indent with confidence
It’s possible that you’re already a pro
when it comes to left tab stops and
first line indent markers. But if you’re
like many Word users, you’ve probably
pounded out hundreds of memos, reports,
and letters in Word, while remaining a
little perplexed by the strange cast of
characters perched on the horizontal
ruler at the top of the document.
In this lesson, we’ll unravel the
mystery of paragraph formatting items
such as the hanging indent and left tab
stop so that you can use them
purposefully, not just accidentally.
In the margins
The first thing to understand about
document formatting is margins. Margins
are the blank spaces around the edges of
the page. The margins appear on the
rulers as gray areas. You can adjust
margin size by selecting File > Page
Setup and making adjustments on the
Margins tab, but the default margins are
usually fine for most documents.
Inside the margins, you can adjust the
horizontal layout of your text and other
objects using alignment, indents, and
tab stops. We’ll look at each of these.
Alignment is pretty straightforward. By
default, text is aligned to the left
side of the page, but you can click the
Center, Align Right, and Justify buttons
on the Formatting toolbar to change the
alignment. Justified alignment adjusts
the spacing between words so that the
text is flush with both the left and
right margins, creating a clean look,
like that seen in newspaper columns.
First line indent
The next tool at your disposal is
indents, which include the first line
indent, hanging indent, and left indent.
By default, there are no indents in Word
documents, so the three markers appear
near the left end of the horizontal
ruler, up against the left margin.
The first line indent allows you to
indent only the first line of a
paragraph; a common document format. You
can choose the size of the indent by
clicking the First Line Indent marker on
the ruler and dragging it to the right.
Or, you can set a first line indent by
selecting Format > Paragraph from the
menu, selecting First line from the
Special list, and adjusting the size of
the indent using the By arrows. By using
this dialog box, you can choose a very
exact indent distance.
Note: Indent formatting is applied to
selected paragraphs and following
paragraphs will inherit the formatting.
A hanging indent allows you to indent
the paragraph text after the first line.
These are often used for bulleted or
numbered lists, and on a page of sited
You can create a hanging indent by
clicking the Hanging Indent marker on
the horizontal ruler and dragging it to
the right. Notice that the Left Indent
marker comes with it, but the First Line
Indent marker stays put. This way, all
of the text except for the first line
Much like the first line indent, the
hanging indent can be set more exactly
by selecting Format > Paragraph from the
menu, selecting Hanging Indent from the
Special list, and adjusting the size of
the indent using the By arrows.
When you click and drag the Left Indent
marker on the horizontal ruler, the
entire paragraph is indented. If there
is already a first line or hanging
indent, those indents are preserved, but
the entire paragraph, including those
indents, shifts over
Another easy way to move the left indent
is with the Increase and Decrease Indent
buttons on the Formatting toolbar. Each
click of these buttons adjusts the
indent by another half an inch. Or, for
a more fine-tuned approach, you can
select Format > Paragraph from the menu
and click the Left arrows in the
Indentation section until you reach the
The right indent adjusts the right edge
of your text. Simply slide it on the
horizontal ruler to define the right
edge of a paragraph. Or, select Format >
Paragraph from the menu and click the
Right arrows in the Indentation section.
Use this feature when you want to leave
extra space on the right-hand side
That’s the extent of indents, which
brings us to the question: How are
indents different from tab stops?
Tab stops 101
Tab stops are little black markers that
you can stick on the horizontal ruler to
control the <Tab> key. By default, when
you press <Tab> the cursor moves half an
inch to the right. By using tab stops,
you can change the way the <Tab> key
Unlike indents, tabs come into play only
if you press the <Tab> key, in which
case your cursor moves to the point on
the ruler where the tab stop is set. You
can set tab stops with left, right,
center, or decimal alignment. This means
that when you start typing at the tab
stop, the text will go in the specified
direction. Or, in the case of a decimal
stop, which is used for numbers, the
characters will align with the decimal
point located directly at the tab stop.
This is useful for lining up a column of
numbers by the decimal point.
Note: Word 2000, 2002 and 2003 also
offer a Bar tab that inserts a short
vertical line where you put the tab
To add a tab stop, click the Left Tab
button at the left end of the horizontal
ruler until it changes to the type of
tab you want to use. Then, click the
ruler where you want to insert the tab
stop. The tab stop appears on the ruler.
Now when you press <Tab>, the cursor
moves to the next stop. As you type, the
text takes on the alignment you
selected. You can add multiple tab
stops, and you can also remove a tab
stop by dragging it off the ruler.
Jump to other stories through these
upcoming classes on Word
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classes on Microsoft Word in the month
of July, hosted at the Lodi Public
Library. Sign up early because
seating is very limited.
Find out more.
keyboard shortcut of the month
Want to quickly resize your text?
Select the word, line, paragraph, or the
entire document (Ctrl-A) and then press
Ctrl-[ or Ctrl-]. Those symbols
are called brackets, and they're just
above your enter key.
Your text will grow or shrink one
increment each time you hit the shortcut
quick reference card
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Download it for free and print it on
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want to laminate it.
The following screen shots illustrate
the articles on the left. Click on
one for a larger view.
The Paragraph dialog box.
Examples of indents and tabs in action.