Software

How to create multilevel numbered headings in Word 2016

Multilevel number headings don't have to complicate your work. This technique takes a few clicks and you're done.

istock-667759834.jpg
Zinkevych, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Over the last few months, we've reviewed Word's numbered list features. Specifically, How to control spacing and alignment in a numbered list in Microsoft Word shows how to control spacing and alignment and How to number headings in a Word 2016 document shows a simple way to number headings. In this article, we'll continue by reviewing Word's Multilevel List feature. Fortunately, it's easier to implement and modify than you might think.

I'm using Word 2016 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but this feature is available in earlier versions. However, the multilevel list options discussed in this article aren't available in the online 365 browser edition. For your convenience, you can download the demonstration .docx and .doc files, or you can work with your own content.

What doesn't work

You can't use Word's Numbering feature to generate a multilevel numbering system, even if you use built-in heading styles. Figure A shows a document with two styled heading levels: Heading 1 and Heading 2. You can apply the Numbering option (in the Paragraph group) and Word will number the headings consequently, but the feature ignores different levels; if you expected 1, 1.1, 2, 2.1, and 2.2, you might be surprised. If you select the entire document first, Numbering not only ignores the different levels, but it also numbers the paragraphs!

Figure A

wordnumbering3a.jpg
Word's Numbering option can't handle multilevel headings.

The easy way

If you use built-in heading styles, applying a multilevel list style is as simple as a few clicks. First, position the cursor anywhere in the document. Then, click the Multilevel List option and choose an option (Figure B). As you can see in Figure C, two quick clicks and you're done!

Figure B

wordnumbering3b.jpg
Choose one of the built-in multilevel options from the gallery.

What's important to note is that the List Library collection displays styles linked to the built-in heading styles. If one of these works for you, you needn't go any further.

Figure C

wordnumbering3c.jpg
It took two clicks to apply this multilevel numbering scheme.

Tweak it

The default options are adequate most of the time, but you might want to customize the results a bit and that's where things can get a bit confusing. The options are straightforward, but there are a lot of them; Word can handle up to nine levels!

To modify the options, click the Multilevel List option (in the Paragraph Group). Word selects all lists currently in use in the List Library. You'll see two options below the gallery: Define New Multilevel List and Define New List Style. Use the first to create and save a stable custom list style. You'll use the second to change list styles. You can also use the latter to create a new style. So, what's the difference? The Define New List Style option lets you name a style, so you can share, modify, and delete it later. Most users will never need this option. Now, let's move on: choose Define New Multilevel List. Figure D shows the resulting dialog.

Figure D

wordnumbering3d.jpg
Open this dialog to create a new multilevel list.

Now you're ready to choose settings that will reflect your numbered heading needs:

  1. Select the level you want to modify. You can change one, a few or all of the levels.
  2. Select a numbering format to apply to the chosen level, adjust the formatting; adjust the spacing and aligning, and so on.
  3. Repeat the above for each level you want to change.
  4. Click OK when you're done.

To save the list style to a template so you can use it with other documents, select the list in the document. Access the Multilevel List dropdown and choose Define New List Style. Enter a descriptive new and select the New documents based on this template (at the bottom). Once you click OK, the multilevel list style will be available in all new documents.

SEE: 10 all-purpose keyboard shortcuts to boost your Word efficiency (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

An example

Let's use what we've learned to modify the built-in style applied earlier (Figure C). Specifically, we'll change the numbering style for both levels and indent level 2. To begin, click anywhere inside the list area, and then do the following:

  1. Click Multilevel List in the Paragraph group, and then choose Define New Multilevel List.
  2. Select 1 in the Click level to modify list to choose the first level.
  3. From the Number style for this level dropdown, choose I, II, III, (Figure E). We're done with level 1.
  4. Select level 2 and change the number style to l, ll, lll, as you did for level 1.
  5. Click the Font button, choose Italics, and click OK.
  6. In the Aligned at control, enter .50. (Figure F).
  7. Click OK to see the new list attributes in Figure G.

Figure E

wordnumbering3e.jpg
Alter level 1.

Figure F

wordnumbering3f.jpg
Alter level 2.

Figure G

wordnumbering3g.jpg
We reset only a few options, but substantially changed the look of the headings.

Notice that the Font option (when you applied italics) changes only the number, not the heading text. To update the heading text, modify the heading style as you normally would. Word assumes you want all Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles included in the new numbering scheme. If you want to omit a heading level from the scheme, don't use a built-in heading style to format those headings.

There are lots of options. For instance, you might reduce the amount of space between the number and the text by changing the Text indent at setting. Or, you might center the heading by choosing Center from the Number alignment dropdown. For even more options, click More to expose several more settings. You could use the Apply changes to option when setting level 1 to the I, II, III numbering style instead of changing it for each level.

To add new levels to the list, simply use a lower level built-in heading style. For a visual review of the document's structure, display the Navigation pane: Click the view tab and check Navigation Pane in the Show group.

This feature is easiest to use when you combine it with Word's built-in heading styles. However, you can map a custom heading style to the multilevel numbering feature—it just takes more work. Word handles nine levels, but any document with more than four levels should receive a serious developmental edit. More than four becomes confusing and perhaps worse, unreadable.

Stay tuned

Word's Multilevel List feature works nicely with the built-in heading styles. However, you can get the same effect working with custom styles. Next month, I'll show you how to do so.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. Please mention the app and version that you're using. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at susansalesharkins@gmail.com.

Also see:

About Susan Harkins

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.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox