How you set up numbered headings depends on what version of Word you have. This page is about setting up numbered headings in Word 2007 and Word 2010. If you have Word 2003 or an earlier version, see How to create numbered headings or outline numbering in Word 2003 and earlier versions.
Numbering run amok
Word’s paragraph numbering sometimes goes haywire. Just when you think you’ve got it organized, the numbering starts doing silly things. If Word’s paragraph numbering were a group of orchestral musicians, it might look like this:
Musicians run amok
What’s needed is someone to get those mad horn players organized and co-ordinated [Lene Fredborg 12-Sep-2017: linked picture of orchestra removed – picture doesn’t exist anymore]. We don’t need another player: we clearly have enough of those! What we need is a co-ordinator.
In an orchestra, the conductor co-ordinates. For Word’s numbering, the mechanism we use to organize and co-ordinate paragraph numbering is a List Style. The List Style co-ordinates. It doesn’t do the actual work of formatting text. We leave that to paragraph styles.
So, we need:
a List Style as the co-ordinating mechanism for the numbering, and
a paragraph style for each heading level (Word allows, actually requires, 9 levels).
Understanding List Styles
A List Style has 9 levels. Each level can be linked to a paragraph style. And, each level stores information about how to number text to which that linked paragraph style has been applied.
A List Style actually does two things.
A List Style creates a set or group of styles. Word comes with built-in paragraph styles named Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3. But there is no connection between them. They just happen to share similar names. A List Style ‘groups’ those paragraph styles into some order. Only the List Style knows that Heading 1 is followed by Heading 2 and that it is followed by Heading 3. There are 9 levels in any List Style.
A List Style stores the information about how to number each level. That includes the format of the number ( “1” or “a” or “i”), whether the number is preceded by text (eg “Chapter 1” or “Part A”), whether the number includes previous levels’ numbers (eg paragraph 1.4.3), and the indents (the distance from margin to number and from number to text).
Set up your Heading paragraph styles
There are good reasons for using the built-in Heading styles.
Before you begin the numbering, make sure your Heading styles are set up appropriately.
Modify the Heading 1 style so that it is based on “No style”. Modify Heading 2 so it’s based on Heading 1. Modify Heading 3 based on Heading 2. And so on. Not everyone does this, but I find it useful because of the way the formatting of Word’s styles cascade.
Now, modify the Paragraph settings of every Heading style so that the Left Indent is 0, and the Special indent is set to (none). Do this even if you want your headings to be indented from the left margin, and even if you want a hanging indent. Why? Because for outline-numbered styles, we will set the paragraph indent and the hanging indents (if any) when we set up the numbering.
Create a list style
Figure 1: Choose the Multilevel list menu
From the menu, choose Define New List Style (Figure 2).
Figure 2: On the Multilevel list menu, choose the Define New List Style option.
In the Define New List Style dialog (Figure 3), do (only) two things:
Give your list style a name. Hint: Give it aplural name. That makes it clear that this is a list style that’s controlling more than one paragraph style. And, give it a name directly related to the paragraph styles you’re going to use. We’re going to use paragraph styles Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3 etc. So I suggest that you name the list style as Headings.
We’re now in the Modify Multilevel List dialog box (Figure 5). The list style is the co-ordinating mechanism for the whole “set” of paragraph styles we’ll use. So we set up all levels of numbering in this one dialog box.
To set up the numbering:
Attach the Heading paragraph styles to the 9 levels in the list style. To do that:
Now we tell Word about the numbering itself for Level 1
Delete anything in the ‘Enter formatting for number” box.
If you want the numbering to start with some text (eg to number a paragraph as “Chapter 1” or “Section 1”) then enter the text including any space in the ‘Enter formatting for number’ box. Leave the insertion point after your text.
From the Number style for this level list, choose the kind of numbering you want.
Set up numbering for levels 2 to 9.
Delete anything in the ‘Enter formatting for number” box.
If you want to include a previous level’s numbering, then use the ‘Include level number from’ box. If you want punctuation after each level, add it into the ‘Enter formatting for number’ box as you go.
For example, for Level 2, I might want the numbering to be “1.1”. That is, I want the Level 1 number and the Level 2 number. So, from the ‘Include level number from’ box, I choose ‘Level 1’. Then I type a full stop (full point, period, whatever). Then I choose from the ‘Number style for this level’ box.
You have to do each previous level separately. By the time you come to do Level 9, if you want paragraphs numbered 126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.1, you need to add Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 etc, all the way to Level 8. This can get tedious, but hang in there!
From the Number style for this level list, choose the kind of numbering you want for the current level.
Repeat for each of levels 3 to 9. If you don’t want numbering for a level, leave the ‘Enter formatting for number’ box empty.
The hard way is to set the ‘Aligned at’, ‘Text indent at’ and ‘Add tab stop at’ boxes individually. Just remember that they’re all measured from the left margin.
My finished settings look like Figure 5.
Figure 5: The finished settings in the Modify Multilevel List dialog
OK, OK back to your document.
How to apply the Heading styles to your text
So you have set up your List Style. But we don’t ever use the List Style. Instead, we format paragraphs using the Heading 1, Heading 2 etc paragraph styles. Because you linked the heading paragraph styles to the List Style, the heading styles will now use the numbering you set up in the List Style.
The conductor doesn’t produce any sound: musicians do that. And you won’t find a part for the conductor in the score.
The list style doesn’t format your text: paragraph styles do that. And you won’t find the list style in the Styles pane.
Apply your paragraph styles to text. We don’t ever actually use the list style.
How to apply Heading 1 style to a paragraph
To apply the numbering to one or more paragraphs in your document:
How to create a lower-level heading (or: how to demote a heading)
Figure 6: Use the Increase Indent button to demote a paragraph (ie indent it to the right)
You can create lower levels of headings by applying the paragraph styles Heading 2, Heading 3 etc. There are lots of ways to apply a paragraph style to your text. Here are three particularly relevant to headings:
How to edit your numbering scheme
Your numbering scheme is stored in your Headings list style. It’s not stored in the individual paragraph styles. Therefore:
Edit the individual paragraph styles if you want to change paragraph settings (eg space before or after) or the font of the text that follows the heading text (eg to make it big or pink or bold). To edit an individual paragraph style, see How to modify styles in Microsoft Word.
Edit the list style if you want to change the numbers, the position between number and text, the size of the number itself and so on. To edit your list style:
Figure 7: Choose the Multilevel list menu
You will see the Headings list style highlighted at the bottom of the menu.
Is all this really necessary? Can’t I just use the List Library?
If using the List Library on the Multilevel List menu (see Figure 2 or Figure 8 ) works for you, then go for it! For quick’n’dirty work, it may be just the thing.
For a corporate template that will be used by hundreds or thousands of users, it’s probably not the best solution. For really big complicated documents, or documents where you have to cut and paste from one document to another a lot, then the List Library may let you down.
For more information, directly from Microsoft’s Word development team, see [NOTE: outdated links removed by Lene Fredborg 29-Dec-2016] The Many Levels of Lists and Multilevel Lists vs List Styles.
Too good to be true?
Related articles on other sites
And, read from people in Microsoft’s Word development team especially Stuart Stuple’s The Why Behind Our Styles and Lists Designs.
Related articles on this site
How to create numbered headings or outline numbering in your Microsoft Word document. How to number headings and figures in Appendixes in Microsoft Word
Photograph of horn players taken at National Music Camp, Geelong Grammar, January 1993. I have no recollection of why all the horn players were wearing silly hats, but National Music Camp has a fine tradition of encouraging innocent pranks and general merriment-as well as damned hard work-so it’s not entirely surprising. What’s more puzzing is why I kept the photo all these years!
John Curro, conductor of the Queensland Youth Orchestra who taught me more than I’ll ever know.