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Indenting paragraphs

Unless otherwise noted, all instructions and screenshots are from Microsoft Office for Windows.

While Word does some default paragraph formatting for you, you may want to change the formatting to suit a particular need. For example, you may need to double-indent a section of text to quote case law for a brief.

First, let’s talk about basic indentation (which can be done from the Formatting toolbar), then we’ll go over more advanced indentation (like double-indents for quotes).

Basic Indentation

See these two buttons?


Those are the Indent buttons on your Formatting toolbar (just underneath the menu bar).  The button on the right is the “increase indent” button — it indents the left-hand edge of the paragraph one tab space to the right; the button on the left, the “decrease indent” button, moves the left margin of the paragraph back to the left one tab space (sort of an “un-indent”).

To use these buttons, you can highlight the paragraph you want to indent, or just place your cursor anywhere within the paragraph (doesn’t have to be at the beginning) and click on the button.  It’s that easy.

Special Indentation

But what if you want to …

  • Double-indent a quote (indent both the left- and right-hand margins of the paragraph?
  • Indent just the first line?
  • Create a hanging indent so the first line begins at the page margin and all subsequent lines are indented on the left-hand side?

It’s time for special indentation, folks.

For all of these tricks and more, go to Format, Paragraph.  You’ll see a dialog box like this (make sure you’re on the Indents and Spacing tab):


All three of the scenarios above can be accomplished here:

  • For a double indent, use the Left and Right indentation fields (on the left side) to control how much space to indent each margin.  For a quotation, you’d indent 0.5″ on both sides.
  • For the first line and hanging indent, use the drop down under Special on the right-hand side; you can control how far in you indent with the By: field (default is 0.5″).

If you’ve got lots of special indents in a particular document (such as multiple case law quotes), you probably don’t want to go through this whole exercise every single time.  That’s where Styles and Formatting (on the Format menu) comes in handy.

But that’s another lesson.

by Deborah Savadra

I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing with computers and attempting to explain technology to lawyers and law office staff. It's not always easy, but someone's got to do it.

WOW – You read that whole post!

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