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Different Approaches to Paragraph Indentation. – Ndiwano
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Different Approaches to Paragraph Indentation.

Large chunks of continuous text can be visually overwhelming and intimidating to readers. To avoid confusion, you can indent paragraphs, marking a brief pause in the text while maintaining its flow.

Large chunks of continuous text can be visually overwhelming and intimidating to readers. To avoid confusion, you can indent paragraphs, marking a brief pause in the text while maintaining its flow.

There are different ways to indent paragraphs depending on the style guide and word processing tool you’re using. This article explains why indents are useful and provides a step-by-step tutorial on how to indent paragraphs using popular word processing tools.

  • What does it mean to indent a paragraph?
  • Different indentation approaches
  • Paragraph indentation with Microsoft Word
  • Paragraph indentation with Google Docs

What does it mean to indent a paragraph?


A first-line indent signals to the reader that a new paragraph is starting. To indent, insert a blank space at the paragraph’s start, between the left-hand margin and the first word of text. That blank space is the indent.

Although the size of an indent varies according to the style guide used (such as the Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, or APA Style), the standard indent is the equivalent of five typed spaces—or about one-half inch.

In written text, a new paragraph generally introduces the start of a fresh thought or idea. The indent before that paragraph provides a pause so the reader can mentally transition. It also creates a visual break so readers don’t have to grapple with huge text chunks.

For example:

What does it mean to indent paragraph Ndiwano

As you can see, the second paragraph introduces a new idea: shifting the topic from dogs to cats. An indent comes before the words “On the other hand” to help mark this shift.

Different indentation approaches

Writers and editors use style guides to ensure a cohesive writing style across a project, company, or industry. This helps ensure consistent communication, minimize confusion, and create a more professional appearance.

A style guide might include details about the proper use of abbreviations and acronyms, capitalization, punctuation, and more. The major style guides also provide instructions regarding indentation formatting.

The three most-used style guides are:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)
  • The American Psychological Association (APA) Style
  • The Associated Press Stylebook (AP)

Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS or CMS) requires text to be aligned to the left-hand margin. Paragraphs shouldn’t be justified on the right-hand side—so the ends of the lines may appear uneven. The dogs and cats example above is formatted in this way; the text on the left is perfectly lined up, while the text on the right is uneven.

For indents, the CMOS recommends indenting each new paragraph by one-half inch.

The American Psychological Association (APA) Style

For paragraph alignment and indentation, the American Psychological Association (APA) Style Guide recommends aligning the text to the left margin. The right margin shouldn’t be justified (i.e., it should be left uneven). The first line of each paragraph should be indented by one-half inch. Create this indentation by using the Tab key on the keyboard, not by using multiple spaces with the keyboard’s space bar.

That said, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, you don’t need to follow these paragraph indent formatting requirements on title pages of professional or student papers. Instead, the title and related information (like the byline and author affiliations) should be centered on the page.

Some other exceptions include:

  • Block quotations. If you’re including a block quotation, indent the entire quote (not just the first line) 0.5 inches from the left margin. In cases where block quotes include multiple paragraphs, indent the first line of the second, third, and following paragraphs another 0.5 inches (so the first line of these paragraphs is indented one full inch).
  • Section labels. Special section headers like “References” and “Appendices” in a paper should be centered, with the title word bolded.
  • Headings. Level 1 headings should be centered and bolded, while level 2 and level 3 headings should be left-aligned and bolded or italicized (but not indented).
  • An exception to the exception: Indent Level 4 and Level 5 headings like a normal paragraph.
  • Figures and tables. Titles for these attributes should simply be bolded (for table and figure numbers) or italicized (for titles). Any notes should be aligned on the left margin, not indented.
  • References. Reference lists should have a 0.5-inch hanging indent.

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook

Unlike the CMOS and APA, the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook doesn’t require indenting the first line of a paragraph. To create a pause, AP style requires you to insert two end-of-lines at each paragraph’s conclusion (i.e., press the Enter key twice). This leaves a single line space between the paragraphs. In general, you should use either line spacing between paragraphs or indents—not both.

This article is formatted using AP style — its paragraphs are fully left-hand justified, with an extra break between them.

Paragraph indentation with Microsoft Word

Modern word processing software allows you to define indentation rules in your documents. For example, you can set the Tab key to create a one-half-inch indent every time you hit it. This can save time and headaches when writing paragraph groups.

Another option is to set indents after the text is written. Here’s how to set paragraph indentation in Microsoft Word. (Note that this is for Word for Microsoft 365, Word 2021, Word 2019, Word 2016, and Word 2013.)

1. Format menu: Click Paragraph command

Right-click in your document to get the pop-up command box and select the Paragraph command.

Microsoft Word Step 1 Ndiwano

2. Paragraph dialog box: Select the type of indent

Now, you’ll see the Paragraph dialog box. Under Indentation, go to Special and select first line. Specify how much of an indent you want under “At” (e.g., one-half inch or 0.5” in line with CMOS or APA Style.

Microsoft Word Step 2 Ndiwano

3. Click OK

Click OK to get out of the Paragraph dialogue box and back to your Word document. Going forward, whenever you start a new paragraph, there should be an automatic indent in the first line.

Microsoft Word Step 3 Ndiwano

Paragraph indentation with Google Docs

Another popular word processor you’ll want to be able to format indents in is Google Docs. Here’s a quick primer.

1. Format menu: Click Align and indent

Under the Format menu at the top, select Align and indent and then Indentation options.

Google Docs Step 1 Ndiwano

2. Select the type of indent

You should now have your Indentation options popup. Under Special Indent select First Line and input your desired value.

Google Docs Step 2 Ndiwano

3. Click Apply

Click Apply. Return to your document. Going forward, whenever you get to the first line of a new paragraph, you should have an automatic indent.

Google Docs Step 3 Ndiwano

Make the best of your writing

If you’re a professional copywriter, a thorough understanding of style guides is essential. Once you’ve mastered details like formatting and indents, it’s time to get clients.

You can advertize your independent copywriting services on Ndiwano.com. Bid on jobs directly or set up a profile to have clients come to you. Ndiwano.com also makes it easy to collaborate with teams through a partnership with Microsoft 365.

Before seeking clients on Ndiwano.com, though, spruce up your resume to increase your chances of winning bids. Get started on Ndiwano.com now.

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