Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Randomly Resetting Numbering.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 28, 2017)
Nancy requested help in overcoming her frustrations with Word's automatic numbering feature. It seems that the numbers in some of the lists would periodically reset themselves or show other strange behavior problems.
The automatic numbering tool used in Word is one of the most poorly implemented and frustrating tools in the entire program. The problems are so bad that many people even advocate the complete abandonment of the feature, relying instead on manually numbering items in lists. (Believe it or not, that is exactly what is done when WordTips is first created—the numbered steps that are so often used are created manually rather than automatically.) This approach obviously involves quite a bit of additional typing and formatting.
Rather than type in numbers manually, you can also use the SEQ field to number your lists. This takes just a bit of time to set up, but the result can be lists that are semi-dynamic. (Meaning that list elements renumber themselves if you have to reorganize a list.) For more information on the SEQ field, refer to past issues of WordTips.
If you want to try using Word's automatic numbering, then it is best to also use styles to define the appearance of the numbered items that appear in your document. You can create different styles for different types of lists, as well as different styles for the first items in lists and the rest of the items. Styles, of course, provide many other advantages that are beneficial when creating documents. If you share your documents with others, defined styles also help insure that your document will appear more true to your original intent when viewed on another machine.
If you want to learn more about numbering and how to tame the wild beast, you should run (don't walk) to the Word MVP site and read through John McGhie's novella on the topic. Simply visit this page:
WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1512) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Randomly Resetting Numbering.
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Got a version of Word that uses the menu interface (Word 97, Word 2000, Word 2002, or Word 2003)? This site is for you! If you use a later version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the ribbon interface.