Word: Use multiple outline numbering sequences in the SAME document or not?

July 11, 2013

Recently, I had a single document to edit that the author had divided into four parts. She had used separate outline numbering sequences for the headings within each Part. In other words, she had Part I, sections 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc. AND Part II, sections 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc. AND Part III, sections 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc. AND Part IV, sections 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc. — all in the same document.

I queried her about the use of these multiple sequences, as I believe they can cause problems for readers, reviewers, and current and future authors.

My reasons against multiple outline numbering heading sequences IN THE ONE DOCUMENT:

  • Word really doesn’t like them and I don’t believe Word was designed to deal with them effectively
  • Table and figure caption auto numbering is repeated in the list of tables/figures, so you can’t easily refer someone to Table 1.2 as there could well be four instances of Table 1.2 in the document. Ease of readability and comprehension is compromised by using multiple sequences — you WILL frustrate your readers as a result!
  • Word’s auto table and figure captioning sequences could reset themselves at some point (remember, Word isn’t designed for this sort of repeat auto numbering)
  • Cross-referencing is made more difficult for authors as there are multiple instances of section numbers, table number, figure numbers, so selecting the correct one becomes problematic
  • If reviewers are doing a round-table document review and are told to go to Section 1.2, for example, which Section 1.2 do they go to? If you have four Section 1.2s, then that becomes confusing, frustrating, and annoying
  • Updating the fields in this document took a LONG time; I suspect this was related to the multi-sequence numbering.

Possible solutions:

  • Either use an unused Heading style (e.g. Heading 9) or create a new style for the Part I, II, III headings and add that style to the TOC as a Heading 1 TOC level. That way you shouldn’t upset the existing heading numbers.
  • Set the Part numbers as Heading 1s only and demote all other heading levels by one — i.e. current H1s become H2s, H2s become H3s, etc. Easy enough to do, especially using the Outline view ‘demote’ buttons and demoting the lowest headings first (i.e. demote H3s to H4s first, then H2s to H3s, then H1s to H2s, then apply H1 to the Part titles).
  • Keep the existing H1s, but make them one long sequence, so Part 2, for example, would have its first heading numbered as 3.0 if Part 1 has two subsections.
  • Separate this document into four different documents, one for each Part. While this is easy enough to do, it is just as likely to be as frustrating for readers as multiple number sequences in the one document, so consider this option carefully.

Bottom line: You need to make a decision about your outline numbering sequence for headings that will NOT upset your readers or reviewers or cause them frustration, will not create further problems with broken cross-references, and will make it easier for you or any other author to continue work on or update this document in the future.


  1. Rhonda, you sure know your stuff when it comes to Word numbering!

  2. Hi, Rhonda. Help! My problem scenario includes some of what you describe, but the multiple list number styles are not the problem (I don’t think). You mentioned redefining a Heading style – I’ve done that to create an Appendix Heading 1 style so I can pick up the heading style in the page number. That part works. BUT the Heading 6 style that I’ve set up as Appendix Heading 1 keeps reverting to the default Heading 6 specs. I’m suspecting the linked Outline level (6), which I can set to level 1, but it doesn’t stick either. I don’t see where you’ve addressed this in a post, but maybe you have? Thanks.

  3. THanks, Rhonda. But my problem is with getting the appendix chapter letter to show in the page number. To do that, I have to use one of Word’s built-in Heading styles and the Heading 6 style is not keeping the settings I give it. So it shows “” as a page number! which would be “A-6” if the style didn’t keep reverting to Word’s formatting. :-(

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: