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Reference Question of the Week – 6/17/12

   June 23rd, 2012

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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3 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 6/17/12”

  1. Lauren Says:

    Another, and in my opinion slightly easier, way to accomplish the same thing is to use the ruler at the top of the page. Simply move what looks like the upside-down triangle on the top left a half inch (which is standard), or however far you want your paragraph to indent, to the right and every new paragraph after that will automatically indent to that specification. Moving the triangle below will create a hanging indent (where the first line is flush with the margin and subsequent lines will be indented).

  2. sharon Says:

    You’re 90% there. The Paragraph setting only changes the current paragraph and subsequent paragraphs that are created by hitting the Return key. You were probably working in the default “Normal” style, but if the patron were then to insert a Heading or List or other type of paragraph, she may have to reapply the indent setting. The permanent solution is to modify the “Normal” style to always indent.

    I’ve always gotten into trouble with the triangles on the ruler, because they interact in strange and mysterious ways. If I want to change the margins, I do it for the whole document on the Page Layout or Page Settings. If I want to change the margins on one paragraph, for a lengthy quotation, for example, I’ll use the Paragraph Indentation settings for that one paragraph.

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    When I’m writing a long document myself, I always type everything out first and then go back and do the formatting afterward (often using just the ruler, triangles, and tabs). I always suggest this strategy to patrons, but not one person has adopted it – I guess people like to see things looking right as they go (and this particular patron has struggled with the triangles in the past).

    In this case, the patron wasn’t doing anything fancy – I think two pages, just regular paragraphs. She had two paragraphs written, so the first thing I told her was to Select All, so make sure the setting would be applied to existing text as well as new paragraphs.

    @sharon thanks for the tip about Headings – I never using anything other than Normal, but that’s good to keep in mind for the future.

    Microsoft Office definitely seem to conform to the 80/20 rule: I’m familiar with about 20% of what the software can do, but that will get the job done 80% of the time (with Photoshop it feels more like 95/5).