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Getting Automatic Paragraph Numbering Back on Track

Video: Three common ways paragraph numbering goes wrong.

By Deborah Savadra

Word’s automatic paragraph numbering feature is a great time-saver when it works. But, once a numbering sequence gets messed up, it seems impossible to get it back on track. Here are a few tricks for making your automatic paragraph numbering in Word behave.

How to Automatically Number Paragraphs in Word

If you’re not already familiar with Microsoft Word’s paragraph numbering feature, it’s located on the Home tab in the Paragraph section.

  • The left-most button is for bullets.
  • The one in the middle is for single-level numbering.
  • The one on the right is for multi-level numbering.

Use the Multi-Level Option for More Flexibility

Even if I’m numbering just one level of the paragraph, I always use the multi-level style instead of single-level numbering. Multi-level gives me more options for formatting. And it even allows me to save my own numbering schemes for future use.

Single-Level (Left) lists vs. Multi-Level Lists (Right)

Three Ways Paragraph Numbering Goes Off Track

I typically see three problems with paragraph numbering getting off track, all of which can be cured with a simple right-click.

1. Most people really don’t like Word’s default indentation for automatic numbering.

Fixing it is simple: Just right-click on one of the numbers and choose Adjust List Indents. Depending on whether you’re using single-level or multi-level numbering, you’ll get a dialog box that’ll allow you to set the indentation for the number itself and the following text. If you’re using the multi-level paragraph numbering style, you can also set the alignment of the number to right versus left if that’s what you prefer. In multi-level numbering, you can also reset the alignment of the first level of the numbering scheme, then instruct Word to increment the indentation for the remaining levels by a consistent measurement.

2. The numbers themselves somehow get out of sequence.

When this happens, right-click and choose either Continue Numbering (if you want to connect your current paragraph to the previous list to continue that sequence) or Set Numbering Value (if you need to deliberately start at a specific number). This trick also comes in handy if you need to insert an unnumbered paragraph in the middle and then pick the number sequence back up in a subsequent paragraph.

Occasionally, however, some paragraph numbers just don’t respond to the Continue Numbering command. Here’s what I do as a fallback position. I place my cursor somewhere within a paragraph in the sequence I want to continue, and then on the Home tab click the Format Painter button. Notice that the mouse cursor is now a paintbrush. That means it’s copied the formatting of the paragraph that my cursor is currently sitting in, and now it’s looking to paste it elsewhere. So once I click into the offending paragraph, then it continues numbering.

3. You need to add more space between paragraphs.

You probably want a little space between each paragraph, which, unfortunately, is not the default. To fix this, select all your numbered paragraphs, open the Paragraph dialog box, right-click to bring up the menu and add a small bit of space after each paragraph. Be sure to uncheck the “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style” box to ensure that spacing is honored. Once you click OK, your numbered paragraphs should be correctly spaced. Or, find the Paragraph and Line Spacing icon on the home menu bar (located in the paragraph group):

Click here to read more of Deborah’s Microsoft Office tips on Attorney at Work. You’ll find her courses online at

Updated August 2023; Originally published in 2021.

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Categories: Lawyer Tech Tips, Legal Technology, Videos
Originally published August 28, 2023
Last updated February 5, 2024
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Deborah Savadra Deborah Savadra

Deborah Savadra spends a lot of her time explaining technology to lawyers, mostly as editor and chief blogger at Legal Office Guru, which features Microsoft Office video tutorials and other content especially for legal professionals. Watch her quick tips videos here, and follow her on Twitter @legalofficeguru.

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