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Indenting Text

You probably like Microsoft Word — it’s a user-friendly word processing program — until you have to indent something. Then Word can become just a frustrating four-letter word.

If your inclination is to use the spacebar to push text way from the left margin one space at a time, please read on. My advice: do not use the spacebar to indent text!

The only meaningful function of the spacebar is to put one space between words. That’s it. If you use it to indent text, center text, or create lists, you will be disappointed. It might look ok at first, but try to edit a paragraph in which each line has been indented by the spacebar; you will have big gaps between words and have to fix every line.

So, how should you indent text?

Tab Key
Place your cursor to the left of the line you wish to indent. Push the Tab key on your keyboard (above the Caps Lock key). Each push will move the text one half-inch to the right. (To go back to the left, push the Delete key on a Mac, the Backspace key in Windows). The Tab key will indent the line but not the paragraph.

Indentation Buttons
Place your cursor to the left of the line in the paragraph you wish to indent. In the Paragraph section of the Home tab, click either “Increase Indent” or “Decrease Indent.” Each click moves your whole paragraph one half-inch to the left or the right. (You cannot go any further left or right than your margins).

Margins
To indent a section of your text on either the left or right of your document, change the margins for that section only. Highlight the section you wish to indent. With the Ruler showing at the top of your screen (if it’s not showing: View > Ruler), drag the left and/or right margin stops on the ruler to a new location. The highlighted text will go with it.

Alignment
If you wish to center or right-justify a line or section of text, use the alignment buttons in the the Paragraph section of the Home tab. Highlight the text you wish to modify and choose the appropriate alignment button. Do not use the spacebar to eyeball the center of your document; this will not work.

Numbered or Bulleted Lists
By default, Numbered or Bulleted Lists indent your text while applying the numbers or bullets. The distance the numbers or bullets are indented — and the space the text is placed after the number or bullet — can be managed with the tab stops in the ruler.

Take some time to investigate these indent options before you need them.