Top Rules to Indent Paragraphs in an Essay

Should you indent every paragraph in your essay? By the end of this text, you will be familiar with rules for indentation in various citation styles. We will also explore indentation in MLA and APA styles.

What is indentation anyway? Indentation is a style of formatting a paragraph that leaves a blank space between the first word and the beginning of your line of text. An indent in word does more than making your paragraphs appealing. It signals flow of ideas and continuity in an essay.

Do You Indent Every Paragraph in an Essay?

Every first line of a succeeding paragraph should be indented 0.5 inches from the left margin. To indent a paragraph, press Tab key once or 5 spaces using the space key.

Why do you indent a paragraph?

  1. Reader guidance: First, it organizes the essay into sections that are readable. A reader will easily track whenever the writer is introducing a new concept.
  2. Aesthetic appeal of the essay: Second, indentation enhances the overall appearance of the essay, giving it a polished and professional look. No one wants to read an entire block of text like a robot.
  3. Consistency in academic work: In many academic and professional writing contexts, indentation is a standard formatting convention. It makes students’ work recognizable. Adhering to this convention helps to maintain consistency and professionalism in written work.

Indentation Rules for MLA

MLA formatting follows all specific writing guidelines that include a half-inch indentation too.

  • Paragraphs: Indent the first line of each paragraph one-half inch from the left margin (five spaces or a tab).
  • Block Quotes: For quotes longer than four lines, create a block quotation. Indent the entire block quotation one inch from the left margin (ten spaces or two tabs). Don’t use quotation marks for block quotes.

Indentation Rules for APA 7th Edition

  • APA format for indentation requires that all lines of your first paragraph except the the abstract.
  • The very first line of paragraphs should be indented. This includes the introduction and the conclusion. 
  • For reference lists, the APA formatting requires hanging indentation too, but this is done on the second and subsequent lines of the citation.
  • The 0.5’’ indentation for the first line begins to the right of the page where the next line starts.

Except for your first line of each paragraph, start all lines of text from the left margin. Indent every line of a new paragraph by pressing Tab button once space. This should be already set to a standard of 1.27 cm or 0.5.

The University of Arizona, Global Campus provides an example of Abstract and best formatting practices.

If you want to up an automatic indentation of the first line of a paragraph, navigate to the Paragraph formatting settings in Microsoft Word, and then under “Indentation,” select “First line.” Proceed under “Special” and set the preferred indentation under “By” to 0.5 in or 1.27 cm.

Unless otherwise instructed by an instructor or the program handbook, double-space “the whole work, including the title page, the abstract, your entire text headings, block quotes, reference list, table notes and figure comments, as well as appendices” (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 45).

Indenting the Abstract

Unlike the regular essay paragraphs, there is no indentation for the first line of an abstract. Abstracts appear on their own page after the title page and are typically limited to a single paragraph of less than 250 words without indentation.

If you’re writing a long essay or even a research paper that requires an abstract, the rules of indentation remain the same except for the abstract.

The lines in the Abstract should be left aligned but without an indent.

Types of APA indentation

APA style distinguishes two forms of indentation. These are: first line and hanging. The first line of indentation begins to the right of where the next line begins.

APA specifies that most paragraphs use first line indentation. Hanging indentation should place your first line of a paragraph leftward where your next line begins. 

When completing your reference list, APA requires you to use hanging indentation. Writers need to manually adjust the reference point for indents to 0.5 inches from your page’s left margin.

Make sure to double space information that includes tables, headings, direct quotations, and references.

There are variations in the number of indentation spaces depending on the writing style. Formal presentations only need to have a few spaces of indentation, but when writing casual content, you can have more indentation spaces.

Harvard Style Indentation

The Harvard style guideline encourages indentation as you type rather than indenting after your work is finished. Although this method takes longer, it has a reasoning behind it. 

Writers who use indents while they write structure their text by creating paragraphs. Writers who wait until they have completed a rough draft of their manuscripts frequently struggle to identify the ideal places to divide the content into paragraphs.

How to Indent a Paragraph in Microsoft Word

Technology today makes it easy to format paragraphs and has removed the laborious typing of indentation gaps from the hands of writers. When setting indentations, we now use word processing programs such as Microsoft Word. To set good paragraph indentation in Word, move your cursor in the paragraph you wish to indent or highlight that specific paragraph. Navigate to the Format menu then select the Paragraph option.

While still in the Paragraph dialog box, proceed to enter the appropriate indent width. Select the type of indent you want. Click OK to close the formatting dialog box.