A request for numbering headings in a new document doesn't have to elicit terror—it only sounds ghoulish. If you're good with styles, you might consider a custom numbered list style, but that's too much work. Instead, use Word's built-in heading styles for a painless process. My best advice is to get the numbering scheme in place before you create the document. Trying to number headings in an existing document really can cause nightmares!
We'll work with the existing heading styles. When applying this technique to your own documents, you can modify the heading styles to reflect the properties you need—you're not stuck with the default settings. If, however, the built-in heading styles are already in use because you're working with an existing document, you'll have to create new styles. Avoid this route when possible. We'll be changing properties for the numbering scheme and not the actual heading styles.
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I'm using Word 2016 (desktop) on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but this technique will work in earlier versions. 365's browser edition displays existing numbered lists and allows you to set basic settings. However, you don't have access to advanced settings in the browser. You won't need a demonstration file to follow along.
Add a numbering scheme to the heading style
The easiest way to implement a numbering scheme for headings is to add one to a heading style. To illustrate, we'll modify Heading 1 by adding a numbering scheme. First, right-click Heading 1 in the Styles gallery (in the Styles group on the Home tab). Then, choose Modify as shown in Figure A to launch the Modify Style dialog. If you thumb through the default properties, you'll not find a numbering scheme (Figure B). Click the Format button and choose Numbering as shown in Figure B. If necessary, click the Numbering tab. Choose the predefined scheme that's the best match for what you want (Figure C).
Modify Heading 1.
Choose Numbering from the Format button.
Choose a predefined numbering scheme.
At this point, you could click OK and start your document. But, let's modify the scheme instead. Click the Define New Number Format button. In the resulting dialog, click the Font button and choose Chiller from the Font list and click OK (only once). Click inside the Number format control—to the left of the example character—and enter Heading, as shown in Figure D. Click OK twice. If you check the properties now (Figure B), you'll find a numbering scheme. Click OK once more to return to the document. Heading 1 in the Styles Quick Gallery displays the new numbering scheme.
Modify that scheme.
Put it to work
Adding a numbering scheme to the Heading 1 style was easier than you might have expected. Now, it's time to see how it works. Enter a simple line of text and apply Heading 1, as shown in Figure E. Then, add a bit of random text using Normal.
Apply Heading 1 to some heading text.
Add a second heading and apply Heading 1, as shown in Figure F. Word knows to continue the numbering scheme with the new heading and displays Heading II instead of Heading I. You can add as many numbered headings as you like. Word will keep up, as long as you apply Heading 1.
Enter new headings and apply Heading 1 to continue the numbering scheme.
Starting a new list
You might want to use the same numbering scheme with a separate set of headings within the same document. Fortunately, doing so is simple:
- Add a new header and apply Heading 1.
- Right-click the number and choose Restart at 1 from the resulting submenu (Figure G). As you can see in Figure H, Word retains the number for the original list and restarts it for the new list.
Restart the numbering for a new list.
Word restarts the numbering.
This simple technique makes quick work of a single-level numbered list and accommodates multiple lists within the same document. However, it doesn't work with multilevel lists. If you must work with an existing document, modify the heading style as shown above. Then, select each heading and apply the heading style that you modified by adding a numbering scheme. As I mentioned, this isn't possible if the existing document already employs the heading style. But if you face numbering headings in a document, you know you've got the request covered—and you won't lose a minute's composure. Just tell them, "Yes, I can do that."
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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.