How to Indent Paragraphs in Google Docs

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Indenting paragraphs in Google Docs requires access to the ruler, which you’ll only find in the full web version. The ruler is not present in the mobile apps.

For whatever reason, Google Docs does not make the ruler available in its mobile apps. Google Docs also doesn’t let you create indents by formatting styles. So, if you want to create indents, you’ll need to use the full web version, and you’ll need to make the ruler visible.

Update, 6/23/22: In addition to using the ruler, you can now use a menu option to indent paragraphs as well. You can view this process in the corresponding section below.

Indent Using the Ruler

To start, select the paragraphs to which you want to apply your indent (or select your whole document by hitting Ctrl+A).

Highlight the text you want to indent.

Next, take a look a look at the ruler at the top of your document (if you don’t see the ruler, go to View > Show Ruler). At the left-hand side of the ruler, you’ll see two light blue markers stacked together: a horizontal bar on top and a downward-facing triangle on the bottom.

The horizontal bar is the First Line Indent marker. It’s used to control the indentation of the first line on whatever paragraphs you have selected. The triangle is the Left Indent marker. It’s used to control the indentation of the entire paragraphs you have selected.

RELATED: Google Docs Has a Handy New Text Selection Feature

By default, both markers are set at the right edge of the pages left margin (so that your text starts right at the edge of the margin), but you can change that.

Find the first light indent marker or the left indent marker.

Create a First Line Indent

Let’s start by creating the most common kind of indent—the first line indent. Select one or more paragraphs, and then drag the First Line Indent marker to the right. It’s a small element that requires a precise bit of clicking, so use your browser’s zoom function if you need to.

RELATED: How to Control Margins in Google Docs

As you drag the marker to the right, shows a vertical line so you can line up your indent, and displays a black box at the top indicating how many inches in you’re indenting. Let go of the marker when you’ve got it in place and your paragraphs will show the new indentation.

Move the first line indent marker to create the indent.

You can use the Left Indent marker if you want to indent all the lines of any selected paragraphs from the left margin. Select your paragraphs, and then drag the Left Indent marker to the right. This time, all the lines of the paragraphs are moved to the right. This kind of indent is handy if you want to include images or side headings out to the side.

Move the left indent marker to indent the whole paragraph.

Create a Hanging Indent

You can also use a combination of the two markers to create something called a hanging indent (sometimes called a negative indent), where the first line of a paragraph is not indented, but all subsequent lines are. These are often used in bibliographies, works cited, and references pages.

RELATED: How to Do a Hanging Indent on Google Docs

This one is a two-step process. First, drag the Left Indent marker to the right to set the level of indent you want.

Second, drag the First Line Indent marker back to the left to, in effect, cancel out that line’s indentation.

Move the first line indent marker back to create a hanging indent.

Indent Using the Toolbar

Google Docs also makes “Increase Indent” and “Decrease Indent” buttons available on the toolbar. You’ll see them towards the right end of the toolbar, though if you’re not viewing your browser window full screen, you may have to click a button with three dots to reveal any hidden buttons. The indent buttons look like this:

Click either to bump the full left indent (every line of selected paragraphs) right or left by a half-inch with each button press. It’s a quick way to control a whole paragraphs indent, but the buttons don’t give you near the flexibility as using the markers on the rulers.

Indent Using the Menu

Another way to indent paragraphs in Google Docs on the web is using the menu. For a new document, the settings will apply to all paragraphs you compose. For a specific paragraph, select it first.

Go to Format > Align & Indent. Pick “Indentation Options” in the pop-out menu.

Indentation Options in the Format menu

For the left and right indents, enter numbers into the boxes on the right using your standard unit of measurement such as inches.

Paragraph Indents in Indentation Options

If you want only the first line of your paragraph(s) indented, use the drop-down box at the bottom to select “First Line.” Then, enter the measurement into the box on the right.

Special Indents in Indentation Options

Notice, you can also choose “Hanging Indent” in the drop-down box if you prefer to indent your paragraph with that format.

RELATED: How to Add a Hanging Indent in Microsoft Word

Click “Apply” when you finish. Again, for a new document, you’ll see your paragraphs indented as you write. For existing text that you selected, you should see the new indentation style.

Whichever tool you decide to use, you can easily indent your paragraphs in Google Docs. For more, take a look at how to make a block quote or how to add, edit, or remove tab stops in Google Docs.


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