How to adjust the indents and tabs in Microsoft Word

Updated: 05/23/2017 by Computer Hope

There are two types of indents that can be adjusted: paragraphs and bullet points. Each has a separate way of adjusting the indent size. Below are the different ways you can adjust the indentation in Microsoft Word.

First line indent with tab

The first line indent can always be created using the Tab key on the keyboard. To change the first line indent size or indent the full paragraph, continue reading the below suggestions.

Indent paragraph with shortcut key

A complete paragraph can be indented with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+M and pressing the keyboard shortcut more than once will indent the paragraph further.

Tip: To reverse the indent you can also press Ctrl+Shift+M.

Adjusting indents using the ruler

To adjust a paragraph indent size, use the Ruler, which is just below the menu bar and resembles the picture shown below. If this feature is not visible, see our document on how to enable the Ruler. Towards the left side of the Ruler, look for indent markers that resemble an hourglass, like the image shown below.

Microsoft Word Ruler

The top marker (down arrow) controls the first line indent, the middle marker (up arrow) controls the hanging indent (the indent for lines after the first line in each paragraph), and the bottom marker (small box) controls the left indent. To adjust these indents, you can click and drag each marker to the right or left.

Note: If you are seeing a large indent spacing when pressing the Tab key and adjusting the indent on the Ruler does not fix this issue, you may need to adjust a Left Tab Stop in the Ruler.

Changing indents in the Paragraph window

Another way to adjust the indents is to view the Paragraph settings. To view this window, double-click on the markers in the Ruler, click Format and then Paragraph. You can also place the cursor in the paragraph, right-click with your mouse, and chose Paragraph.

As seen below in the Paragraph window, under the Indentation section, the left and right indent settings can be adjusted. You can also adjust the first line indent and hanging indent size under the Special option in the Indentation section.

Microsoft Word Paragraph window

At the bottom of the Paragraph settings window, you can preview the look of the indent sizes you are setting and make changes accordingly until you get it the way you want.

Adjust the indent in the Word 2007 and 2010 Ribbon

If you're using a new version of Microsoft Word that uses the Ribbon, such as Word 2007 or 2010, do the following.

  1. Click on the Page Layout tab.
  2. Adjust the indent settings in the Paragraph section.

To view the Paragraph window mentioned in the above section, click the small down arrow indicated by the red arrow in the picture below.

Microsoft Word Ribbon indent

Adjusting the bullet and numbering indentation

Tip: The easiest method of adjusting the bullets and number list in all versions of Word is to adjust the left indent through the Microsoft Word ruler bar.

Note: If you want to adjust the spacing between the bullet and the text in a list, you may need to adjust the Left Tab Stop in the Ruler.

Word bullet indentsMicrosoft Word 2007, 2010, and later

  1. Click on one of the bullets at the level you want to change in the document.
  2. Right-click on the bullet and select Adjust List Indents in the pop-up menu.
  3. In the Adjust List Indents window, change the Bullet position to adjust the bullet indent size or change the Text indent to adjust the text indent size after a bullet.

Microsoft Word 2000 and earlier

  1. Place your cursor in a bulleted or numbered line in the document.
  2. Click on the Format menu at the top of the Word program and select the Bullets and Numbering option.
  3. In the Bullets and Numbering window, click on the Customize button on one of the first three tabs, depending on the type of list you are changing.
  4. In the window that opens, adjust the indent size for the bullet position and the text position. At the bottom of the window, you can preview how the indentation sizing will look and make changes accordingly until you get it the way you want.

Bullets menu in Word

You can also access the Bullet and Numbering window by placing your text cursor on a bulleted or numbered line and right-clicking in the Word document. In the pop-up menu, select the Bullets and Numbering option.

Additional information

  • See our bullet and indent definitions for related information and links.