Books The writing process

Word Tip 5: How Not to Indent a Line

That would have been fine on a typewriter.

Microsoft Word Tips for Authors

Welcome to the next in a series of tips on using Microsoft Word, geared towards authors.
Most Word advice is rather complicated and full of things you’ll never need to know.
I shall do my best to keep it simple, because you’re not stupid… just busy.
Please note: 
– Not all versions of Word are the same, but most are near enough.
– There are different ways of doing the same thing. I shall demonstrate just one (or two).

Your next line is the start of a new paragraph and you’ve decided you want the first line of the paragraph to begin further in from the margin… indented. So you press the space bar a few times and the paragraph’s first line is indeed indented.


No! That would have been fine on a typewriter. But nowadays we use fonts that have proportional spacing. We might change fonts in a document. The space taken up by six spaces at the beginning of one line might not be the same as the space taken up by six spaces at the beginning of a different line. You’ll struggle and fail to line up your indentations. Your document will look messy.

A better method is to press the Tab button. That will jump to the same place every time, providing that all tabs are defined the same way for all your paragraphs.

An even better method is to modify the style, which, unless you’ve changed it, is called the Normal style. Here’s how:

  1. With the cursor on a paragraph, click the little arrow in the bottom right corner of Home → Styles.
  2. Hover over Normal in the Styles box and click the arrow that appears.
  3. Click Modify.
  4. Click Format → Paragraph.
  5. Click Indents and Spacing
  6. Click the arrow under Special: and choose First line.
  7. Under By:, set the amount of space you want to leave on the first line of each paragraph. (Mine is set to 1.27 cm.)
  8. Click OK twice.

Every Normal paragraph will have its first line indented by the amount you defined.

Next week we’ll look at Track Changes and Compare.

Questions and suggestions for future topics are welcome in the comments below.

Links to Previous Word Tips

  • Tip 1: A Matter of Style
    About heading styles.
  • Tip 2: Make Your Novel a Trampoline
    How to jump swiftly and gracefully between chapters.
  • Tip 3: That’s Not What I Wrote
    How to stop Word making changes you don’t want.
  • Tip 4: How Not to Jump to a New Page
    Press Enter until a new page appears? Please don’t.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

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