Word – Styles and Numbering Are Two Different Things

When you contact Document Support for an issue with numbering in Word, do they talk about “styles”? Does it seem that they might be confusing things? If so, your suspicions are correct.

Quick question: What is a “style” in Word?

If you were to ask typical legal Word users, you’d probably get a lot of different answers. Some might vaguely indicate formatting; some might say something about automatic numbers. More knowledgeable users would say that styles allow you to do multiple things at once.

A style in Word is simply a set—a set of options that apply to a particular element. For example, a paragraph style is a set of options that apply to paragraphs.1 Paragraphs can be formatted using several options, such as indentation, line spacing, space before and after, a default font, etc. With a style, you group a set of values for these options together, give it a name, and then you can apply those options to paragraphs all at once.

1 Word also has styles for characters, tables, lists, etc. Styles aren’t just for paragraphs.

Now, of course, paragraphs can be numbered. So…

Question 2: Is numbering part of a paragraph style?

The answer is No. This may be a surprise to a lot of Word users. The fact is, you can apply numbering by using paragraph styles, but the numbering is not part of the style. You can link a numbered list and a paragraph style (so that you get the number by applying the style), but list formatting and paragraph formatting are two different things in Word.

As with many topics, it helps to have a programming perspective. In the Word programming object model, there are List objects and related objects that deal with numbering. Paragraph and ParagraphFormat objects deal with paragraph formatting.

From a user perspective, numbering is controlled through the various numbering dialogs, not the paragraph dialog.

Why is this important?

  1. Because numbering can be done in ways other than through paragraph styles, and it’s essential to know how to work with numbering in general, rather than through the limited functionality provided by linking numbering to paragraph styles.
  2. Because, if you’re a support person, you want know what you’re talking about. If you say “styles” (sets) when you mean “numbering” (numbering), you’re not making sense.

A lot of traditional document support users are trained to apply numbering only through linked paragraph styles. This limited training leads to a lot of ineffective help desk support and wasted document support time. A modern document support professional needs to understand Word numbering at a higher level. For instance:

  • to fix problems quickly, without resorting to wholesale reformatting
  • to handle documents with unfamiliar numbering (e.g., documents from other firms)
  • to handle documents with complex or multiple outlines
  • to create customized numbered lists

All these challenges are easily within the grasp of a document services professional with a modern skill set.

Kenneth Hester is a Microsoft Office Specialist Master (2013, 2010, 2007, 2003) and a Microsoft Certified Application Developer.