Auto Numbering Microsoft Word Documents: Beyond Paragraphs


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Most Microsoft Word users beyond the absolute beginner level know about auto numbering Microsoft Word paragraphs. (Whether they can use it successfully is another story. It’s not a feature known for its user-friendliness.) But few know that numbering can go beyond paragraphs and can include numbers other than plain Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.).

For example, how would you like to auto number like this:



If you frequently include items like these in your legal writing, you’ll want to construct these and keep them in your Quick Parts so you can insert them with two clicks.

The heading here could be anything: affirmative defenses in an answer, articles in a contract, etc. It doesn’t matter; the technique is the same with only slight variations. The end result is that you’ll have a heading saved in your Quick Parts that will be numbered correctly, no matter how many items you add or delete. This makes this technique particularly useful in building templates for common documents; because it’s always easier to delete than add, they’ll re-number themselves after editing.

Set Yourself up to Succeed: 2 Word Settings to Check

When using fields like these in documents, there are two settings you’ll want to check (and re-set if necessary). Go to the File tab in Word 2010 (or click the Office button in Word 2007) and click on Options.

The first setting, under Display on the left, instructs Word to always update any field values before printing a document:


The second, under Advanced, will always display fields on the screen with shading so you can always see, at a glance, which items are just text and which are fields:


The Main Event

For our example, let’s do headers for affirmative defenses that say “First Affirmative Defense”, “Second Affirmative Defense”, etc. Put your cursor where you want your first heading to go, then go to the Insert tab, click on Quick Parts, then click on Field:


On the Field dialog box, you want to select the Seq field:


We’re going to name this “affdef”, but really you could name it anything you like. Once we’ve done that, click on Options to define the field:


There are three settings we need to embed in this field. The first is to tell it what kind of numbering we want to do (in this case, “First, Second, Third”), what case we want to use (upper case, title case, etc.), and a switch to tell Microsoft Word to increment the numbers. Click each of these settings as shown below, being sure to click “Add to Field” after each one:


So what you have now is a Seq field that has an ordinal number in uppercase letters that increments.


And it looks something like this:


Don’t worry, that shading behind the word “first” won’t print. That’s just there to show you that it’s a field and not just text. Now we can type the remainder of the phrase and format it however we like (bold, centered, new font, etc.):


At this point, you can save this to your Quick Parts so you don’t have to go through that whole “inserting the field” sequence over and over again.

One caveat: you may notice occasionally that when you insert several of these in a row (easy to do when you click on Quick Parts and find where you’ve saved it), the automatic numbering doesn’t seem to work:


Not to worry. Click CTRL-A (to select all text), then click F9 to update all the fields.


Microsoft Word will update those fields anyway the next time you print or save the document, but you may want to force update the fields just to set your mind at ease.

Don’t Do Litigation?

You can still use this trick with other types of headings and other numbering schemes. Just check out some of the other options under Formatting in the General Switches tab of the Field Options dialog box shown above. Use a little imagination, and you can put these kinds of Quick Parts to use when creating documents and templates.

Originally published 2013-07-11. Last updated 2015-10-23.



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  • patmarktax

    What’s the trick to refer to the sequential number within that section? Example: “Heading 1”. “Text of paragraph introduces things that are only applicable to this section 1”. Is there a convenient way to refer to the last used sequential number?

    • legalofficeguru

      Instead of using the switch /n as shown above, use /c

  • Mo Kane

    Interesting. Is there way to assign non-changing numbers paragraphs during editing so that the cross references do not change? For example, let’s say I have a paragraph entitled “Releases” and there are references throughout the document to that paragraph number. New sections are added and now the paragraph numbers relating to “Releases” do not update and all have to be changed. Multiply this by 100 and add several document revisions and it’s no longer possible to remember what section 3.4(a)(i) refers to because the number has changed several times. Assigning a non-changing number would fix that, or at least go a long way towards fixing the problem.

  • Diana

    Great post and your instructions are clear, however, I find it still complex. After browsing around on the web, I have come across a software, for law firms, automating this task. I am now using their trial version and it delivers so far:

  • Lb

    Hey is there a way to fix it so that if you want two sequentially numbered exhibits in the same paragraph you can do it?
    Right now if I put two field codes in say paragraph 2 (Exhibit A and Exhibit B) it will put them both in as Exhibit A. If I hit enter inbetween them it goes to Exhibit A and Exhibit B. This is the main challenge I am having with field codes – that the numbers are only sequential if they are in different paragraphs. How do I turn this off so that the formatting of the surrounding text doesn’t change my exhibit numbering?

  • JeffH

    I must be stupid or something. I followed the instructions to the letter and the macro did not create. I have MS-Word 2013, but did everything that the article said. Came up with nothing.

  • Carol Bourque

    You just made by day!