A Simple Guide for How You Need to Format Bibliographies

The process of formatting bibliographies has several elements.1 If you’re using SBL style, these elements include

  • the structure and formatting of each bibliography entry considered just itself. For these components, Zotero proves incredibly helpful since it allows you to insert a bibliography with the push of a button from the word processor plugin.2
  • your bibliography’s pagination, which needn’t take any special attention if you’ve set up the bibliography section properly.
  • the heading and top margin on the first page of your bibliography, which also should be well in hand based on your use of heading styles.

Even after you have all this formatting in place, however, you’re still left with the spacing between items in your bibliography and a hanging indentation.

More specifically, for SBL style, you need

  • one blank line between each item in your bibliography,
  • the first line of each item in your bibliography to be flush with the left margin, and
  • each subsequent line for that item to be indented by 0.5 inches.3

How Not to Format Your Bibliographies

You could try to achieve this layout by

  • entering a new, empty paragraph after each bibliography entry and
  • pressing the tab key at the start of each subsequent line of an entry after the first.

But if you do so, you’re liable to miss something, or bibliography is liable to break. For instance, if you correct an entry, you might then have to change where subsequent tabs fall.

Or you might end up with an empty paragraph rolling from the end of one page to the top of the next. Then, you’ll need to take it back out there, or you’ll have the first bibliography entry on that new page starting one line lower than it should.

How to Format Your Bibliography with a Style

Instead of doing all this work and still running the risk that something will be off, you can have Word handle the formatting through the bibliography style.

Once you have this style formatted properly,

  • you can apply this style to your whole bibliography at once or
  • Zotero can apply it when it generates your bibliography for you.

1. Find the Bibliography style in the styles panel.

To format the bibliography style, go to the Home tab, and find the Styles section.4 You should see an arrow in the lower right corner of the section. Click this to expand the section into a panel.

Once this panel is open, click the Options… button, and check that Select styles to show: is set to All styles. If it isn’t, change that selection. When you’re done, click OK.

Back at the styles pane, look through the list until you find the Bibliography style.

2. Update the Bibliography style in the Modify Styles dialog box.

When you find the style, right-click it, and choose Modify. You’ll then see the Modify Style dialog box where you can specify how you want the style formatted.

In this dialog box,

  1. You may want to change Style for following paragraph: to Bibliography. But that will really only be relevant if you’re typing out a bibliography by hand.
  2. Click the Format button, and choose Paragraph….
  3. On the Indents and Spacing tab of the Paragraph dialog box, you’ll need to do three things. First, under Indentation, set the Special: dropdown to Hanging. Second, under Spacing, change After: to either 12 or 13.81 points, depending on how precise you want to be with your “one blank line” after each bibliography entry.5 Third, while you’re in the Spacing section, check that Before: is set to zero points and that Line spacing: is set to Single.
  4. Once you’ve got these settings, click OK in the Paragraph dialog box to close it.
  5. Back in the Modify Style dialog box, if you want to save this style change to your template for new documents, choose New documents based on this template, and click OK. Otherwise, if you only want to use this updated Bibliography style in your current document, leave the default selection Only in this document, and click OK.

That’s it. Now, the next time you need to format the indentation and spacing for a bibliography entry, just apply your Bibliography style. Word will then take care of the hanging indentation and spacing between bibliography items for you.


In biblical studies, a lot of work goes into writing. So, there’s no sense making that process any more complicated than it needs to be. Instead of fussing with Word to format your bibliographies, let Word take that work off your plate so you can focus on your research and the content of what you’re actually trying to communicate.

  1. Header image provided by the Noun Project. ↩︎
  2. “Word Processor Plugins,” Zotero, 12 February 2021. ↩︎
  3. Melanie Greer Nogalski et al., Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, Second Edition, ed. Joel M. LeMon and Brennan W. Breed, rev. ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2015), §3.5. ↩︎
  4. In this section, instructions are based on Microsoft Word for Windows (Version 2403, Build 16.0.17425.20000, 64-bit). If your version differs, things may look slightly different. ↩︎
  5. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §3.5. ↩︎

Some of the links above may be “affiliate links.” If you make a purchase or sign up for a service through one of these links, I may receive a small commission from the seller. This process involves no additional cost to you and helps defray the costs of making content like this available. For more information, please see these affiliate disclosures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.