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

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.

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