Word: Solutions for Common Issues with Numbered Lists

Automated numbered lists are a feature a lot of us take for granted in Microsoft Word…. They usually work seamlessly and automatically, but sometimes these lists can work against us: restarting a list of numbers  at 1 when we mean to continue our list, or picking up formatting that we can’t seem to shake, like creating all bold numbers in spite of unbold text. Don’t despair; these little inconveniences are remarkably simple to fix.

Exercise File

To follow along, you may download the exercise file: NumberedLists

This file contains a fascinating list of silly words laid out in series of numbers lists. Let’s take a look at our options.

Continuing or Restarting Numbered lists

Look at the second section of words, starting with “Brouhaha.” It is clear that this list should not be starting over; it should be a continuation of the previous list. This is a simple fix.

  1. Right click on top of the number 1 next to the word Brouhaha.
  2. Select Continue Numbering

Right click menu, continue numbering

This will pick up the value from the previous numbered list.  What if the opposite happens? Word guesses that you would like to continue numbering, but you actually intend to start over? Easy peasy! Follow the same process, but this time select Restart at 1.

 Right click, restart at 1 selected

 Additionally, occasionally when you insert a numbered list, you will see a lightening bolt appear with a dropdown arrow. This is just another way to access the same feature, a shortcut inserted by Word that will allow you to make the decision whether to continue numbering or restart at 1.

Restart Numbering lightening bolt

Change Number Values

There is also an option in this menu to Set Numbering Value. This option is for those times when you need a special number, perhaps one that is out of sequence with the rest of your numbered list.

Right click, set numbering value

Formatting Numbered Lists

Sometimes you create a lovely numbered list, and for whatever reason, Word picks up on formatting from a previous line of text, making all the numbers bold, or a previously used color.

Formatting in numgers matches words

On the exercise document, look at the third section. Someone used a blue bold font for the text above the numbered list, and Word assumed that this should apply to the numbers on the list. To fix this, let’s take a closer look at that right click menu.

  1. Right click on top of the first blue number, next to “Taradiddle”
  2. Attached to the numbering options in a separate section is the ability to change the formatting: to remove the bold formatting and recolor the text.
    • Note: sometimes these options appear above the numbering options, sometimes they are below.

Right click, formatting options

Sub Points

Creating Sub Points

In the last section, numbers 4 and 5 should be sub points of number 3. To demote them to sub point click to the left of “Our Friends,” and hit tab on your keyboard. Do the same for “Our Neighbors.”

This has created sub points, and Word assumed that you would like to indicate sub points with lowercase alphabet:

Subpoints on a list

If the alphabet isn’t your goal, you can always click into the text in the line of a or b, go the numbered list dropdown in the Paragraph group of the Home tab, and select a different format. Maybe Roman numerals?

Numbered list options, Roman numerals selected

Promoting Sub Points

By the way, how do you change your mind and promote a sub point back to being a main point? Well, you could use the Decrease Indent (left arrow) in the Paragraph group…

Left Arrow in Paragraph group

But you all know I am a fan of shortcuts, and my favorite one for this purpose is shift + tab.


Have numbered lists caused you trouble in the past? Will any of these tips help you going forward? I would love to hear from you!

Congratulations, Power Users!

Congratulations to our newest Power Users! For the full gallery, and more information about the WSU Microsoft Office Power User Program, please visit: wichita.edu/poweruser




4 thoughts on “Word: Solutions for Common Issues with Numbered Lists”

  1. Ah, auto-formatting… ‘Tis both a blessing and a curse! It’s also sometimes helpful to mix numbered and bullet lists, when the sub-points aren’t prioritized or are just a few of all possible examples.

    I personally prefer kerfuffle or ballyhoo over brouhaha, so perhaps I’ll practice numbered lists with my own top silly words!

  2. Thanks again, Ali. Sometimes it seems Office products do these things out of spite. I don’t know what I did to Microsoft, but it seems to hold a grudge.

Comments are closed.