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Despite being a spreadsheet program, Google Sheets provides many features related to text formatting. However, you may have noticed it lacks some basic features related to text, such as the ability to insert bullet points or use the tab key to indent contents within your cells. Fortunately, while there’s no button or menu option, there are multiple ways to do both.

In this guide, you will learn about four different methods you can use to indent the contents of your cells. The first method uses the copy & paste technique, which allows you to get tab spacing from other programs. The second method uses the custom number format feature to display an indentation in your cell contents. The third method uses the always useful CHAR function to indent contents with a formula. Finally, the fourth method uses a helper column to give the appearance of indentation without changing the cell’s contents.

Can You Tab Within a Cell to Indent in Google Sheets?

Unfortunately, you can’t use the tab key to indent cell contents, as you will simply move to the next cell. However, you can type multiple spaces before your text or copy a tab space from another program, such as Textpad or Google Docs, and paste it directly into your cell.

Indent in Google Sheets with a Custom Number Format

Select the cells to which you want to apply the indentation and go to Format > Number > Custom number format. In the text box at the top, type in the spacing you want to indent by, followed by the at symbol (@). Click ‘Apply’ to save and apply the indentation.

  1. 1. Select the cells to which you want to add the indentation and go to Format > Number > Custom number format.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Select Cells
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Select Cells
  1. 2. In the text box, add as many spaces as you need to achieve the indentation you want, followed by the at symbol (@). Pasting a tab space in this text box won’t work, so you must use the space key.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Custom Number Format
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Custom Number Format
  1. 3. Click ‘Apply’ to save and apply the custom number format.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Indented Result
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Indented Result

Indent in Google Sheets with a Formula

In Google Sheets, you can indent the cell’s contents by using the CHAR function in your formulas. CHAR(32) will insert a space within your formula, so if you want to indent the contents, you can add as many spaces as you need before the values or calculations you want to indent.

  1. 1. In an empty cell, type the equal sign followed by CHAR(32). If you want to use more than one space character, you can concatenate them using the ampersand (&), as shown below.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples CHAR32
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - CHAR(32) + &
  1. 2. After the last ampersand (&), type the text between quotes, the value, or the calculation you want to use. Alternatively, select the cell with the contents, as shown below.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Add Text Value or Calculation
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Add Text, Value, or Calculation
  1. 3. Press ‘Enter’ to see the result. Grab the fill handle and drag it down to the last item.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Indented Result 2
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Indented Result
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Indent in Google Sheets with a Helper Column

This last method won’t add the indentation within the cells but simply use a helper column to give the appearance of indentation. In other words, you can make it look like the entire column’s contents are indented.

  1. 1. Insert a column to the left of the one you want to indent.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Insert Column Left
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Insert Column Left
  1. 2. Resize the helper column to the width by which you want to indent.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Resize Helper Column
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Resize Helper Column
  1. 3. Select the first cell in both columns and merge them using the button on the toolbar.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Merge First Row
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Merge First Row
  1. 4. As you can see, the contents of the column on the right appear to be indented. However, the gridlines are still visible.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Gridlines Visible
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Gridlines Visible
  1. 5. To remove the gridlines in the spreadsheet, select the relevant cells in both columns and click on the border button in the toolbar. Change the color to white, as shown below.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Select White
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Select White
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  1. 6. Select ‘Inner borders’ from the toolbar drop-down menu.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples White Inner Borders
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - White Inner Borders
  1. 7. Reselect the cells in both columns and change the color to black.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Select Black
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Select Black
  1. 8. Select ‘Outer borders’ and ‘Horizontal borders’ to apply.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Black Outer Horizontal Borders
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Black Outer & Horizontal Borders
  1. 9. That’s it. Your indented list is ready.
How to Indent in Google Sheets Examples Indented Result 3
How to Indent in Google Sheets (+ Examples) - Indented Result

How to Remove Indentation in Google Sheets

Since indentation is not a built-in formatting option, removing it is not always as simple as going to Format > Clear formatting. If you added it by typing spaces into the cell, you must delete it manually or use the TRIM function to remove the leading spaces. If you used CHAR(32) in a formula, you must delete that part of it. Finally, if you used the helper column method, you can simply delete the helper column.

Conclusion

While you can’t use the tab key to indent the contents of your cells in Google Sheets, many alternative methods are available. You now know how to use each method to meet different indentation needs. The quickest method for adding indentation to your cell contents is the custom number format, but you also know about a few other methods.

If you want to add indentation to existing content, you can type space characters manually or use the copy & paste method. This can be tedious and time-consuming if you have many cells to edit, but in that case, you can also use the helper column or cells method instead.

If you want to add indentation to new cells or don’t mind recreating the cells and pasting over the original cells, you know how to use CHAR(32) with the ampersand symbol (&) to indent text, numbers, or calculations. Finally, you also know how to remove the indentation added through any of the methods shown in this article.

Maria Del Olmo
Originally published Mar 5 2023, Updated Jun 26 2023

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