Outline Numbering in Word for OS X

Unlike most of my articles, this one is not a piece of original research. Shauna Kelly wrote the definitive method for producing outline numbering in Word several years ago. Unlike most of what you’ll read about techniques for creating numbering in Word, Shauna’s procedures actually work reliably. Unfortunately, Ms. Kelly passed away several years ago, though her web site has been kept going by volunteers. You can read her original posts here: How to create numbered headings or outline numbering in Word 2007 and Word 2010. My contribution is to document the steps needed to produce outline numbering in Word for OS X.

The names of some commands are different, or they’re found in a different place. I’m sticking to the step-by-step approach. For an in-depth explanation of why the steps work, please consult Shauna’s original pages. These instructions are quite specific. Please don’t include any steps not on the list below, or you’re on your own for the results.

Shauna argued strongly for using the built-in heading styles Headings 1 through 9. There’s nothing wrong with this and it can save a few steps. Sometimes, however, I prefer to save heading styles for headings and create a separate set of styles for numbering. In this article, I’ll translate Shauna’s classic method. A future post will show some optional variations. If this is to be the basis for future documents, you want to be making these changes in a template. If you do this in a document and don’t apply the changes to the source template, you’ll have to redo all these steps for the next document.


Outline Numbering in Word for OS X – The Classic Method

  1. Choose Format>Style and select Heading 1. (If you’re not already using Heading 1 in your document, change the List: dropdown to All styles)
  2. Click on the Modify… button.
  3. Change the Style based on: dropdown from Normal to (no style) at the top of the list, then click on OK. While the dialog is open, choose Format..>Paragraph and set the Left indent to 0 and the Special indent to (none). If there is any indenting, these will be set later. If you had already formatted Heading 1, you may need to make some changes after detaching it from Normal.
  4. Select Heading 2, click on Modify… and change Style based on: to Heading 1. OK out.
  5. Repeat step 3 for each built-in Heading style, for as many levels of outline numbering as you require. Each style should be based on the one before.

Opening the Right Dialog Box

  1. In the Paragraph section of the Home tab, choose Multilevel List>Define New List Style. Avoid starting from Numbered List, that is not reliable.
  2. Outline Numbering in Word for OS X - Multilevel List 2011 (left) + 2016 (right)

    Multilevel List>Define New List Style in Word 2011 and 2016

  3. In the Define New List Style dialog, give your style a plural name like Headings or Numberings, since this will apply to several styles.
  4. Click on the Format button and choose Numbering…
    Name + Numbering 2011+2016

    Set the style name and click on Format>Numbering (Left: 2011 Right: 2016).

  5. Now the Bullets and Numbering dialog opens, an extra step that doesn’t happen in Word for Windows. Click on the Customize button.

Link a Paragraph Style to a List Style

  1. Finally we get to the Customize Outline Numbered List dialog. Once this dialog is open, we will leave it open until all levels are set up. Start by clicking on the dialog expander button to see all the options (circled in red):
    Top: Word 2011 Bottom: Word 2016 for Mac

    Top: Word 2011 Bottom: Word 2016 for Mac

  2. Now we start a sequence that will be repeated for all the outline levels to be formatted. First we attached the paragraph style to the list style. Start by selecting 1 in the Level list.
  3. Now select Heading 1 in the Link level to style dropdown:
    Attach Paragraph Style to List Style 2011+2016

    Top: Word 2011 Bottom: Word 2016 for Mac


Set the Numbering for the Style

  1. In the Enter formatting for number: field, you can delete any content displayed. If the first outline numbering level starts with text, like Chapter 1 or Section 1, type in the text and a space.
  2. Using the Number style for this level: dropdown, choose the number appearance. A number appears in the Enter formatting for number: field.
  3. Add any punctuation or symbol that is to follow the number.

Repeat for All Levels

  1. Repeat the steps above for all levels to be formatted. Select 2 from the Level list, Heading 2 from the Link level to style: dropdown, enter text and select a number style.
  2. On lower levels, you often want to include numbering from a higher level, so level 2 may appear as 1.1. You can do this by clicking in the Enter formatting for number: box where you want the previous level to appear, then choosing a level from the Include level number from dropdown.
    Outline Numbering in Word for OS X has a quirk: the Level 1 choice is already displayed, even if no number appears in the Enter formatting for number: box. Just click on the dropdown and re-select the Level 1 that already appears selected and Word will do the right thing.

Set the Indentation for all Styles

Set the number position, tab and indent for each level. Left alignment for numbers is most common, but Roman numerals can look better right-aligned, since their width varies more. Normally the tab and indent are set for the same amount. The tab controls the position of the first line and the indent all the lines in the paragraph after that.


Editing Outline Numbering in Word for OS X

Like every good designer, you’ll probably want to tweak these styles later. For paragraph styling, like the amount of space before or after, you can simply modify the paragraph parameters. That’s easy. But anything to do with the numbering or its positioning relative to the paragraph should be done in the Outline Numbering dialog. Unfortunately, both Word 2011 and 2016 have a bug that makes it impossible to edit an existing List Style.

  1. In the Quick Style Gallery, right-click on Heading 1 and choose Modify Style.
  2. Click on the Format button and choose Numbering. The Bullets and Numbering dialog opens to the List Styles tab, where you can’t modify, add or delete anything: the buttons are permanently disabled. Serious bug!
  3. Click on the Outline Numbered tab. None is highlighted, which is not helpful. Examine the tiles carefully, you have to choose the correct one. Click on it and then on the Customize button. This will only work if you are editing the outline numbering on the same installation of Word on which you originally created it. Open in a different installation or version and the Bullets and Numbering tiles do not show your custom list.
  4. Edit the numbering, then exit when you are finished. Instead of editing your named List Style, Word has created a new list style autonamed Current List1. If you’re using a different installation of the program than what you created the list on, you can’t even use the Outline Numbered tab. All the tiles will display the stock numberings. Instead of editing your list style, you must start all over and get it right in one editing pass.

Outline Numbering in Word for OS X - Ineditable List Style

Word bug: the plus, minus and Modify buttons are permanently disabled.


Outline Numbering in Word for OS X: The Customize Outline Numbered list Dialog

Here are the final results for an outline numbered style as created in Word 2011. These shots are from the same dialog, only the Level number has been changed. Since you can’t edit this, pre-planning is crucial!

Level 1 in 2011
Level 2 in 2011
Level 3 in 2011
Level 4 in 2011
Level 5 in 2011
Level 6 in 2011
Level 7 in 2011
Level 8 in 2011
Level 9 in 2011

11:58 pm

One thought on “Outline Numbering in Word for OS X

  1. Pingback: Outline Numbering Variations - Office Best Practices

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