LawProse Lesson #291: The hanging indent.

LawProse Lesson #291: The hanging indent.

Among the most useful devices in document design is the “hanging indent”—the device by which the second and following lines of an indented passage align with the first. The result: the set-off text becomes more prominent on the page. Hanging indents are useful with outlines and numbered, lettered, or bulleted lists. They’re especially useful in contracts. Compare the two passages attached below. If you don’t know how to make hanging indents (the spacebar is never involved!), learn fast. They’re easy. In Microsoft Word, hanging indents are automatically applied to lists and outlines. And you can adjust the width of the current paragraph’s indent by showing the ruler (accessible from the View menu) and dragging the lower, upward-facing triangle left or right. (Select multiple paragraphs or list items to adjust them simultaneously.) Dragging the upper triangle adjusts your initial, or first-line, indent; dragging the small rectangle below the triangles moves both in unison. If you want more precise control, all the indent settings are located in the Paragraph menu. (On Windows, access this by selecting the Home tab at the top of the screen, then clicking the small, square pop-out button in the bottom-right corner of the Paragraph section. On macOS, click Format in the menu bar, then select Paragraph.) In the Indentation section of the Indents and Spacing tab, select Hanging from the Special drop-down menu. Then specify the indent’s width in the box to the right of “By.” Once you get the hang of hanging indents, you’ll detest enumerations without them. In Parts 6 & 7 of Bryan Garner’s ten-part webinar series Legal Writing in Plain English, you’ll learn the optimal approach to contractual and statutory drafting. You’ll do exercises to improve your ability to draft in plain language, organize in logical order, break down enumerations, state obligations unambiguously, and heed the most important canons of construction.  

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