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Word: Outline Numbering

Outline Numbering in Word

Welcome to September's Hot Tip from Black Swan Training. This month we are going to look at one of the most frustrating aspects of Word.

Outline numbering is used in documents that need paragraphs numbered with one style (eg 1, 2, 3...) and sub-paragraphs in another (1a, 1b, 1c....). These might be reports, meeting minutes or legal documents. There are lots of styles to choose from (numbers, letters, roman numerals) but it is often difficult to mix outline numbered sections of your document with sections that are not numbered. Even experienced users have difficulty with this feature in Word, but here are some things to remember:

  • Outline numbering can be applied to a continuous list of paragraphs or to the headings in your document.
  • Headings need to be set by using the heading styles.
  • Outline numbering is set by giving the command Format - Bullets and Numbering, and selecting the Outline Numbered tab. This has a gallery of numbering styles to choose from. Some of the Outline Numbering styles number all paragraphs, some apply only to your headings. (The styles that mention Heading 1, Heading 2 etc will only apply numbering where a Heading Style has been used.)
  • The gallery position you choose is important to remember when you have more than one numbered list in your document.
  • If you have more than one numbered list, you can choose for the numbering to Restart or to Continue from the end of the previous list. Word often guesses which you want (usually incorrectly!). See below for more about this.

Applying Heading Numbering

  1. Position the cursor anywhere in the document so that the numbering is applied to the whole document. Do not highlight any text unless you want to apply the numbering only to that part of the document.
  2. Give the command Format - Bullets and Numbering, and select the Outline Numbered tab. Choose the style you want from those that state Heading 1, Heading 2 etc. Click OK.
  3. Apply the Heading styles to the right places in your document using the Style list tool on the toolbar (usually it shows the word Normal, because you are using the Normal style). This can also be done in Outline view, using the Promote and Demote arrow buttons.
  4. All your Headings will now have the numbering applied.
  5. Reasons that this might not work include: You have highlighted only part of your document; you have changed the format of one of your Headings so that it no longer matches the standard headings (this confuses Word as it loses track of the sequence of Headings); you use the Numbering button to apply a number to a Heading (Word may apply a numbering style that doesn't exactly match your choice).

Applying Outline Numbering to an Existing List of Paragraphs

  1. This is the most reliable way to apply outline numbering to part or all of your document. Type out all the text first.
  2. Highlight the text you want to number.
  3. Give the command Format - Bullets and Numbering, and select the Outline Numbered tab. Choose the style you want from those that are not for Headings.
  4. All the text will be numbered as main paragraphs.
  5. To set a paragraph to be a sub-point, click it and click the Increase Indent button on the toolbar. You can repeat this Increase Indent to make sub-sub-points and so on. Use the Decrease Indent button, to do the opposite.
  6. If this applies numbers to empty lines, delete those lines and use paragraph spacing to put the gaps back in.
  7. Adding new paragraphs later can cause difficulties, but if you follow the steps for Typing an Outline Numbered List you should be OK.

Typing an Outline Numbered List of Paragraphs

  1. Position your cursor where you want the list to start.
  2. Give the command Format - Bullets and Numbering, and select the Outline Numbered tab. Choose the style you want from those that are not for Headings.
  3. The current paragraph will numbered as a main point.
  4. Type the text, and press [Enter] once when you have finished that point. Pressing [Enter] twice will turn-off the numbering. (If this happens to you, use the backspace key to go back to the end of the previous paragraph, and press [Enter] again, to resume numbering.)
  5. The new point will be numbered at the same level as the one before.
  6. If you want the new point to be a sub-point use the Increase Indent button on the toolbar. Use Decrease Indent, if you want to make it a higher level than before.
  7. At the end of the list, press [Enter] twice to turn-off the numbering and start a new paragraph. Alternatively, click the Numbering button on the toolbar.

Having an Unnumbered Paragraph in the Middle of the List

  1. Type all the paragraphs as a continuous numbered list. It is important not to break the numbering sequence as you are going.
  2. Select the paragraph(s) that you don't want numbered.
  3. Click the Numbering button on the toolbar to remove numbering.

Having More Than One Numbered list in your Document

When you have more than one list, Word tries to track the formatting from one list to the next. It guesses that you want to use the same numbering format as before, and it is this guess that it can get wrong. Second and subsequent lists can be set to Restart numbering or Continue previous list.

When you have more than one list, Word tries to track the formatting from one list to the next. It guesses that you want to use the same numbering format as before, and it is this guess that it can get wrong. Second and subsequent lists can be set to Restart numbering or Continue previous list.

  1. If you want to start the list at 1 (or A, or whatever) give the command Format - Bullets and Numbering, make sure the appropriate style is highlighted and then select Restart numbering, at the bottom of the dialog box.
  2. Click OK.

To continue a previous list you have to remember that the gallery position you choose that contains the style you want is the key to the link from one list to the next. When you choose to continue the previous list, Word looks for the previous list that has the same style as the one you are now applying, and continues counting from the end of that one. If you have altered the format of your numbered text, Word will see a difference and not link the two, so the numbering continues in the wrong way. This makes it possible to have two sets of numbering sequences in your document, where you have one style of numbering mixed in with another (and the result is usually chaos, confusion and shouting at the computer).

  1. To continue numbering, give the command Format - Bullets and Numbering, and make sure you choose the same gallery position and style as the list you want to continue. It is a good idea to first of all check what the settings for the original list are, so that you can be sure the new list matches it.
  2. Set the option at the bottom of the dialog box to Continue previous list.
  3. Click OK and enter your list in the usual way.

Troubleshooting

If your numbering is mis-behaving check:

  1. Is the numbering style and gallery position consistent?
  2. Have I changed the format of part of the list?
  3. Do I need to Restart numbering or Continue previous list?

As a last resort remove all numbering from your document ([Ctrl]+[A] to select it all, Format - Bullets and Numbering - None), and apply numbering after you have typed it all.

Outline Numbering is one of the hardest parts of Word to master, especially as it seems to have a mind of its own. The key is to keep things consistent, but even then experienced operators sometimes need two bites at the apple before getting it right. So don't let it win!

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