The way Word has constructed paragraph numbering—a twisted combination of fields and styles—makes it difficult to customize numbering to your preferences and easy to screw up somewhere along the way.

If you are going to use Word’s native paragraph numbering function rather than installing an add-on like The Payne Group’s Numbering Assistant or SnapDone’s SnapNumbers, you will want to be armed with basic knowledge and some snafu-busting techniques for the inevitable disappointments.

The Basics

Word 2016 bullet library for paragraph numbering

Starting an auto-numbered paragraph is deceptively simple. See those buttons on the top row of the Paragraph section of the Home tab? The left-most one is for bullets; the next two to its right are for numbering and multi-level numbering, respectively. Simply click the button to toggle the feature on, or click on the drop-down arrow on each button to select a specific style. If you don’t like any of the delivered choices, you can click Define New to set your own.

If you use multi-level numbering, use the Increase/Decrease Indent buttons on the Home tab (just to the right of the numbering buttons in the Paragraph section) to change the numbering level of a particular paragraph. The numbering of subsequent paragraphs will self-adjust.

Making Adjustments

The first thing you will notice is the paragraph will not be indented the way you want. Microsoft has its own ideas about how your paragraphs should look, but you can override them. The quickest way is to right-click on the paragraph number you just created and choose Adjust List Indents from the menu that pops up.

If you are using the basic one-level paragraph numbering, you will get a small dialog box in which to make your adjustments:

Word 2016 Adjust List Indents dialog box for paragraph numbering

“Number position” is what it sounds like: how far from the left margin the number should be placed. “Text indent” is how far from the left margin you’d like your paragraph’s second and subsequent lines to wrap. Most people choose Tab character for the follow number with value, although you can also choose Space or Nothing.

Sample paragraph numbering settings

If you are using multi-level numbering, the Adjust List Indents dialog box is more complex:

Word 2016 multilevel paragraph numbering settings

The values for number position (here called “aligned at”), text indent and follow number with are in the Position section at the bottom. With multi-level numbering, you also have easy access to settings that control the type of numbering at each level, the characters before and after each level’s numbers (period versus parenthesis), and the list number style (1, a, I, etc.).

Restarting/Resetting Paragraph Numbering Sequences

You can control whether your next paragraph number continues the current sequence or starts again at 1 within that same right-click menu. If one of your numbers gets out of sequence, simply right-click and choose Continue Numbering. If you want to force the number back to the beginning (say, you’re switching from interrogatories to requests for production), choose Set Numbering Value (which will also give you the option of continuing the previous list).

Adding Space Between Paragraphs

With the numbered paragraphs shown above, there is no extra spacing between the paragraphs. That’s easy to fix. Go ahead and type out at least part of your first numbered paragraph, then go to the Page Layout tab and adjust the value of Spacing After in the Paragraph section. Still no extra space? There’s one more setting to check. Click the launcher arrow in the lower right-hand corner to go to the Paragraph dialog box, uncheck the box next to “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style.” Click OK. That paragraph and all the remaining numbered ones will have more breathing room.

Word 2016 spacing for paragraph numbering

Placing an Unnumbered Paragraph in the Middle

You will occasionally want to place an unnumbered paragraph in the middle of a sequence, but the moment you hit Enter, another paragraph number pops up. No worries. Simply toggle paragraph numbering off by pressing the paragraph numbering button you used for the previous paragraph. (If you use the button’s drop-down, choose None as the numbering scheme.) Unfortunately, the paragraph settings won’t revert to Normal here; it’ll usually have the paragraph indented 0.25. Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL+Q to strip paragraph settings out, then revise the formatting as you wish.

When you are ready to re-start numbering, you can use the technique above, or you can do what I do (which I think is faster): place your cursor inside a numbered paragraph above, click the Format Painter (the paintbrush icon on the Home tab under Clipboard), then click on the line where you want to restart numbering. Using Format Painter this way solves several paragraph numbering problems (the number sequence, indents, and inter-paragraph spacing) simultaneously.

Making Your Own Paragraph Numbering Scheme

Starting with Word’s default settings and tweaking from there becomes tiresome around the umpteenth time you have to do it. The only cure for that is to make your own numbering scheme, complete with all the number/prefix/suffix/paragraph spacing settings you want.

As far as detailed instructions go, I can hardly do better than Microsoft MVP Shauna Kelly’s master tutorial (see the “Create a list style” section).

It’s a Trade-off

If automatic paragraph numbering is this much trouble, why do it? Frankly, in some situations—a short set of paragraphs will probably remain static throughout editing— simply typing the numbers in as text makes more sense. But if you want the increased flexibility that automatic numbering can give you during the editing process, these tricks are worth learning.

  • Paul Spitz

    Has this been tested with Word for Mac 2011?

  • FreddieKrueger

    Like Paul, I am a Mac user – Payne Group and SnapNumber make Windows-only products, so what are Mac users to do? Any comparable plug-in providers, or a comparable set of instructions for those of us who tolerate Microsoft’s Office product but refuse to use Micorosoft’s operating system?