How to Create the Smartest Indent for a Manuscript

With all the manuscripts I edit or proofread I’ve learned many writers don’t know how to create a proper indent to their paragraphs.

While I can’t unequivocally say that publishers prefer writers use the first line indent, I can say you’ll look like a savvy writer if you do.

The first line indent is formatting that removes the need for the TAB KEY at the beginning of every paragraph. It is the formatting the publisher will eventually use in preparing your manuscript for publication. If you self-publish, this indent is a formatting essential.

Here’s how to create the “first line indent.”

A Visual of the First Line Indent

In the picture below you’ll see three different ways to create an indent. On the first line you see a small arrow pointing right. That’s the symbol Word displays for the TAB. On the second line are a bunch of dots leading up to “How.” Those are space marks and the worst way to indent your paragraphs (or any line). The third you see a blank space. That line was created using a first line indent.


Take a look at the top of the picture. This is the ruler Word can display at the top of your document and the black arrow is pointing to where the indent is set–note the tiny blue triangle pointing down that sits at the top of the ruler.

Creating the Indent

Now that you know what this indent looks like, here’s how to format/create it using Word 2007. (Here’s a YouTube video if you use Word 2003)

Next is a picture of the Home Tab on the Formatting Tool Bar. Open a document in Word and click on the tiny down arrow in the bottom right corner of the section marked Paragraph.

Paragraph format

That opens the dialog box. This is where you can format how your paragraph appears.


On the Indents and Spacing Tab under Indentation, click the down arrow under Special and select First line. This is the first line indent. Next to that is “By:” This is where you set how much Word automatically indents the first line of each paragraph. I usually set mine to 0.3” but you may prefer something else.

Once you’ve done this, click on OK at the bottom of the window. As you write, each time you hit the Enter key Word will automatically begin each new paragraph with this indent. You won’t have to use the TAB KEY.

In the coming weeks I will be creating a document that covers terminology, creating templates, keyboard shortcuts, and more stuff like today. If you have a particular computer challenge you’d like me to cover, mention it in the comments section. If I can include it, I will.

I hope this has been helpful for those of you who struggle with the intricacies of software. The less formatting we have to think about as we write, the better!

Want to get published but don’t know where to start?

Maybe you have a finished manuscript or just an idea stuck in your head. Email me today at Deb [at] DebraLButterfield [dot] com, and let's discuss how I can help you reach your dream of publication.

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