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10 steps to creating a numbered heading style in Word

If you want to incorporate automatic numbering in your document headings, the quickest and most foolproof route is to create a custom style.

You have two choices when faced with the task of numbering headings in a Word document. You can enter the numbers manually and hope nothing changes -- lots of luck with that one. Or you can opt for the more efficient solution and create and apply a numbered style. Unfortunately, that can get you into even more trouble, if you don't know what you're doing. To avoid surprises, follow these 10 steps to add a numbering scheme to a style.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Start with a new, blank document

If possible, open a new document to create your numbered style. Working with an existing document and all its in-use styles can be troublesome. It can be done, but changing styles that are already in use almost always has far-reaching repercussions. Admittedly, this advice isn't always practical, but it's the best way to start if you can.

2: Use what you have

You could create a new set of styles, but for our purposes, Word's existing heading styles, Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on, provide a good foundation. Most everything you need is built in and can be easily modified. If heading styles are already in use and you must work in a production document, you'll have to create new styles.

3: Open the main heading

The existing heading styles (Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on) are based on the Normal style. All you have to do is add a numbering scheme to the top heading style and watch the settings trickle down. Always begin with the main level heading. In this case, that's Heading 1. To edit Heading 1, do the following:

  1. Open the Styles And Formatting task pane by choosing Styles And Formatting from the Format menu or clicking the Styles And Formatting tool on the Formatting toolbar.
  2. Right-click Heading 1 in the Pick Formatting To Apply list and choose Modify, as shown in Figure A.
  3. In the Modify Style dialog box, shown in Figure B, choose Numbering from the Format button's list.
  4. Click the Outline Numbering tab in the Bullets And Numbering dialog box.
  5. Choose the predefined scheme that's most similar to what you want. For instance, if you want sublevels indented, choose the indented form; similarly, if you don't want sublevels indented, choose the flush left form, as shown in Figure C. Try to make the best choice right now because changing your mind later will present so many problems that starting over will be easier.
  6. If Reset is enabled, click it now to remove residual settings.

Figure A

Open the style to add numbering.

Figure B

Choose Numbering to open the Bullets And Numbering dialog box.

Figure C

Start with the numbering scheme that's closest to what you need.

4: Modify Heading 1

At this point, you're ready to modify the Heading 1 style. First, click Customize. The resulting Customize Outline Numbered List dialog, shown in Figure D, is the heart of this technique. This is where you'll define the numbering scheme for Heading 1 as follows:

  1. In the Levels control, Word offers nine numbering levels. Select 1 and click the More button, if necessary to display more options. (This button with display Less if already clicked.)
  2. From the Number Style drop-down list, choose a style, if you don't care for the default.
  3. In the Level Format control, add the components you want to appear along with the heading number. Figure E shows the word Section and a colon character with the number.
  4. At the bottom of the dialog box, make sure Heading 1 is the Link Level To Style setting. (Since you began by modifying this style, it should be the default.)
  5. Change the Follow Number With setting to Space.
  6. Give the new numbering scheme a descriptive name, such as NumberedHeadings. Always name your new schemes to avoid confusion.

Figure D

This dialog presents all of the settings you'll need to add numbers.

Figure E

You can add text to your numbering scheme.

Do not click OK -- you still have to define the numbering style for the sublevels.

5: Modify first sublevel

You just added a numbering scheme to the main heading style, Heading 1. Beginning with Heading 2, add the scheme to the sublevel headings, as follows:

  1. Select 2 in the Level control.
  2. Choose a Number Style and make any necessary changes in the Number Format control.
  3. The Link Level To Style setting should be Heading 2.
  4. Change the Follow Number With setting to Space.
  5. Check the Restart Numbering After option, if you want sublevel numbers to start at 1. In most cases, you'll want to set the After option to the previous heading, as shown in Figure F. Doing so forces Word to start renumbering Heading 2 paragraphs after each new Heading 1 paragraph. In other words, when Heading 1 updates to 2, the sublevel number will start over at 1, generating 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and so on.

Figure F

Choose to restart numbering in subsections.

Do not click OK yet -- you're still not done.

6: Indent sublevel 2

Right now, all eight sublevels are aligned with the left margin. It makes sense that you'll want to indent at least a few subheadings. To indent sublevel 2, simply change the Aligned At setting in the Number Position section. For instance, Figure G shows this setting at .25.

Figure G

Indent sublevels, if you like.

You're still not ready to click OK!

7: Format remaining sublevels

For most documents, you'll need only a few levels, but Word offers nine. Format several, even if you don't think you'll use them. Simply select the appropriate number in the Level control and repeat the steps outlined above, updating the settings as necessary. When you've formatted all your number levels, click OK -- finally!

8: Don't update

Once you're back in the Modify Style dialog box, don't be in a hurry to click OK. First, uncheck the Automatically Update option (at the bottom right). You don't want Word to automatically update any styles in your numbering scheme. Once you've unchecked this option (if necessary), click OK.

9: Number as you go

When creating the document, you can assign styles as you enter new text. Simply position the cursor at the beginning of a new line and choose the appropriate style from the Styles control on the Formatting toolbar. For the main heading, choose Section 1: Heading 1, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

Choose the header style before entering heading text.
Word will insert the appropriate number and components, as shown in Figure I. Simply type the heading text and press [Enter]. Figure J shows a Heading 2 sublevel, 1.1. If you add a second sublevel, as shown in Figure K, Word again generates the appropriate sublevel number, 1.2.

Figure I

Inserted numbering

Word generates the appropriate main heading number.

Figure J

The first sublevel heading displays the section number, 1, and the sublevel number, 1.

Figure K

Word generates the sublevel number 2 but doesn't update the main section number.

10: Put it to use after the fact

Sometimes, text comes before the formatting. In this case, you simply select the heading text and choose the numbered style from the Styles control. When you do, Word automatically inserts the formatted number. Figure L shows selected text after assigning the Heading 2 style.

Figure L

You can also select text and assign a numbered heading style.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

21 comments
Debmeister
Debmeister

Susan, your explanation and screen shots were very clear - I printed this out last night and attempted to do this, but when I get to the step after 'Modify style', where you choose 'numbering' from the format drop-down - the bullets and numbering list is completely different from yours. I'm using version 2010, not a trial or student copy. Your 'Bullets and Numbering' window has twice the columns; I do not see the 'outline numbered' or 'list styles' tabs. I've racked my brain trying to customize Word but cannot make my option match yours. Please help, I'm going mad trying to understand how to create a template with automatically sequencing numbers for the various levels of headings. Thanks in advance!

bruce.manford
bruce.manford

I think that another way to modify style/paragraph numbering that might help is to click on the diagonal arrow to the right of the Styles pane in the Home tab. From there one can navigate to any style, choose ???Modify??? from the drop-down list, and all the old familiar options from Word 2003 and before to change multi-level numbering etc. for any style with built-in numbering should present themselves.

Atcold
Atcold

Hi, if the current configuration of my chapters is the following: |1. AAA |Text | - 1.1 aaa1 | - Text | - 1.2 aaa2 | - Text and I would like to obtain the following: |1. AAA |Text | - 1.1 aaa1 | - Text | - 1.2 aaa2 | - Text |Text What shal I have to do? Many thanks

JMohr
JMohr

This worked great in Word 2003, but in Word 2007 things have changed. The outline list is now the multi-level list. I'm trying to find a way to make it work in 2007 and having difficulty. Can you provide instructions for 2007?

Ian005
Ian005

Shouldn't the title of the article specify which version of Word this applies to?

brucehughw
brucehughw

Adds useful details to poorly documented feature. Nice post!

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

Click the "1)..." Button Type the next item.

webster_z
webster_z

I am just a developer - not a tech writer or something like that - but I knew all this by working with MSWord myself. Do people really need to be told about this? Don't they figure it out on their own? I am surprised.

fledis
fledis

I can't get why Outline (or Multilevel) numbering isn't included in Modify Style- Format- Numbering. Who needs headings to be bulleted??? Now I have to prepare style Heading1 without numbering, then type my first heading in a document and only after this press Multilevel button and choose the appropriate numbering scheme. OK, it wasn't hard to find because I knew what I wanted to achieve. But it isn't obvious for the beginner.

stilckdv
stilckdv

I've just gotten the office 2007 Ultimate Suite and tried going along with the post, Word 2007 doesn't have many of the features shown.

ssharkins
ssharkins

You know, I do agree that it's an easily-applied technique and I'm sure many serious Word users already know how to do this -- but it's one of the questions I see often enough that I know a lot of people need help with it.

avin
avin

A sofware eng., 25 years work experience, have been using Word for about 20 years, can never figure this out. Esp. since they changed the user inteface in (AFAIR) 2007. Thanks for a great article. Keeping it in my favs.

freda0255
freda0255

I've seen the steps described here incorporated into macro packages costing upwards of $10,000 for a site license. These macros help the user to quickly create custom styles, define the numbering scheme and indentation for the desired levels, and create table of contents using run-in headings. In a law office, paragraph numbering can be complex. The method described in this post, linking numbering to styles (heading styles or custom styles), presents the most stable method of implementing numbering from Word 97 to Word 2003. The same concepts apply in Word 2007 and 2010, but the dialogs are different as is the method for accessing the define numbering dialog. In a later post on this thread, someone suggested clicking on the numbering buttons on the toolbar or typing "1.)". This works only on the simplest of lists and not always reliably. It also requires that auto-correct be turned on. Sometimes these "auto" features create changes that users do not want so we recommend that most of these features be turned off. In previous versions of Word, numbering paragraphs with the buttons on the toolbar resulted in problems where numbering will not increment properly ("spaghetti numbering"). Another problem is the accumulation of "list templates" (too many numbering schemes defined in the document resulting from editing the numbering scheme improperly) which eventually caused document corruption.

Scalloway1
Scalloway1

You might be surprised how many people I have had to explain this to.

webster_z
webster_z

I don't know where the Modify Style -> Format -> Numbering that you mention is. But I could immediately see in Word 2007 that, in the Home tab on the ribbon, there is a Paragraph group of buttons. There, you will find 3 buttons grouped together. One shows a bulleted list, the 2nd shows a numbered list and the 3rd shows a multi-level numbering. All these buttons have a little triangle on the right. Click on the little triangle on either of the 2 numbered list buttons (single- or multi-level). In the drop-down list of options that comes up, there is a choice at the bottom "Define New Number Format..." for the single-level button, and "Define New Multilevel List..." for the multi-level numbering button. Just select that and you get the same (or at least, very similar) forms to create a new style.

webster_z
webster_z

Whatever I said, I do appreciate the author's effort to put everything in a very clear, step-wise process, along with the many screenshots.

webster_z
webster_z

By the way, the title of this article should have been "10 steps to creating a CUSTOM numbered heading style in Word". That's because there are some standard numbered heading styles available right out of the box. And Word automatically creates a numbered heading style if you just do what oldbaritone wrote in his short but effective post, just type "1) ", then whatever text you want for that item; press Enter, and voila... Word automagically prints "2) " on the next line. Try it. So I still don't get what the big deal is.

ssharkins
ssharkins

In a way, you are combining two features, so a lot of people just don't realize how easy it is. In addition, step-wise, it is complex -- each step is easy, it's just that there are a lot of them. It isn't something I see people using without a bit of coaching or encouragement.

fledis
fledis

Thank you. Yes, I know about 3 buttons for numbering. But in W2003 I was able to perform my heading styles going through one logical command chain: Menu Format, command Styles and formatting, then command Modify, button Format in the Modify Style dialog box, and option Numbering from the drop-down menu. It opened the dialog box for the command Bullets and numbering with 3 parts, including Outlined (Multilevel)lists. Now, in W2007, going this way I can reach only 2 parts of numbered lists- Numbered and Bulleted, not Multilevel. Therefore I have to use Multilevel button in addition to command Modify Style. As to me, it's inconvenient and illogical.

ssharkins
ssharkins

If you use the auto method, typing 1.), you can go back and apply a style later to get all the formatting you might need, but you're still stuck with that form--1.). In addition, you can't automate the common components, such as a term that you want in each heading -- you have to type that too. It's just ease of use really. If the 1.) method gets the job done, a numbered style would be overkill.

webster_z
webster_z

When I use any software tool (which has fairly accessible and good user documentation), I think of what I want to do and if I cannot figure out how to do it myself, I will search Help and I usually find something to go on. Don't mold your working style to the software. See how the software can support you. That's what it's there for. Or sometimes, just looking at the other items on a form gives one a hint of the other possibilities.