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.