or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Reference Question of the Week – 6/17/12

   June 23rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

W hand signThis reference question can be filed under, "no matter how much you know about something, there's still more to learn."

One afternoon this week, a patron called in and asked for me specifically. She had a question about Microsoft Word, and since I've always been able to solve her technology questions in the past, she knew I'd have an immediate answer this time. Her question was:

How do you make Word automatically indent the first line of every paragraph?

I thought for a minute, and then realized - I had no idea how to do this. Whenever I want to indent, I just hit the Tab key. But she wanted it to indent automatically - which I was sure Word probably did, I just didn't know where this was in the menus.

I figured it had to be a Paragraph format option though, so I clicked the little square in the bottom right corner of the Paragraph box on the Home ribbon in Word 2007. Nothing immediately stood out, so I did a quick web search for word indent first line of every paragraph, and the first result explained how to do it - turns out I was on the right track.

Once you get to the Paragraph format box, you need to select "First line" from the "Special" dropdown box in the middle of the page. Then you can also set how much to indent by.

Paragraph format box

Great. I found all this in a minute or so, making small talk with the patron while I searched. As I started guiding her through how to do it, we hit a snag: she's still using Word 2003, and I'm on Word 2007 (which is also what the online directions were for).

I use this Paragraph format box all the time, but for the life of me I could not remember how to get to it in the Word 2003 menus. So, it was another web search for word 2003 paragraph menu, and again it was the first result that gave me the answer: Paragraph was an option on the Format menu.

Now I can navigate the patron to the Paragraph box and explain how to set the auto-indent feature. It work, she was delighted, and I was able to maintain my perfect record for her tech support - even though I had never done this before in my life.

Which just goes to prove the reference librarian's motto: you don't need to know everything, you just need to know how to find everything.



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