How to Automate Outline Numbered Headings in Word

Microsoft Word is an immensely powerful and flexible tool for writers in biblical studies.1

Unfortunately, it can also be pretty opaque. It can handle a good deal for you. But it’s not always clear how to make that happen.

So, it can be tempting to just manually make the changes you need. That can be okay in a pinch, but it gets expensive when it’s a cost you have to pay over and over again.

A case in point is adding custom outline numbering to your document’s headings. You might need to have this numbering for a larger project like a dissertation or monograph. But you’ll even need it for even smaller submissions, like articles for journals.

It might be easier in the moment to just type the outlining you need. But then you have to change that numbering if you move a section, and you have to redo it again in each document.

But that’s not work you have to do. Instead, with a few simple steps, you can let Word handle your heading numbering for you.2

1. Use styles to format your document’s headings.

If you haven’t usually done so, you’ll want to start using styles to format your document’s headings. Doing so will vastly reduce the work you have to do managing headings in your document.

It will also unlock Word’s ability to automatically handle tables of contents and, of course, heading numbering as well.

2. Start creating your heading numbering scheme.

First, you’ll want to define the outline numbering scheme you’ll use for your headings.

Even if you’re only going to have one level of numbering, click the down arrow on the outline numbering button on the Home tab.

Then, choose to Define New List Style….

From the Define New List Style dialog box, name your list something appropriate (e.g., “Headings”).

Then, click the format button, and choose Numbering….

In the Modify Multilevel list dialog box, click the More >> button to expand the dialog box to show some additional options you’ll need.

3. Specify the outline numbering for each heading level.

With your top outline level selected, use the Link level to style: option to select what you’ve used as your top-level heading style in your document (e.g., Heading 1).

Then, select the number style you want to use for that level. For instance, if you’re preparing a submission for Catholic Biblical Quarterly, you’ll want to use roman numerals for your first level headings.

You can then also specify whether you want

  • a different character after the number by changing what appears after the outline number in the Enter formatting for number: field,
  • the outline number indented by using the Aligned at: setting,
  • the first line of text after the outline number indented by using the Add tab stop at: setting, and
  • subsequent lines of text indented by using the Text indent at: setting.

Then, if you want your heading positions to be the same for all heading levels, click the Set for All Levels… button.

Next, select outline level 2, and specify

  • the heading style you want to link to that outline level (e.g., Heading 2),
  • the kind of numbering you want to use (e.g., capital letters), and
  • what you want to follow each capital letter (e.g., a period).

You’ll then do the same process for each of your document’s other outline and heading levels. You can even associate some outline levels with no numbering at all.

Once you’re finished, click OK. Your heading styles should then update. So, you can click OK again, in the Define New List Style dialog box, and you’re done.


Every craft has its tools. Biblical studies is no exception. And among the tools in biblical studies, Word is one you use constantly. The better you get at using it, the more you’ll be able to focus on pushing your research to the next level rather than pushing type around a page.

Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.

  1. Header image provided by Fabien Barral

  2. For the fundamentals of this process, I’m grateful to Shauna Kelly, “How to Create Numbered Headings or Outline Numbering in Word 2007 and Word 2010,” Making the Most of Word in Your Business, 31 August 2011. Screenshots here show Word for Windows v16.0.14527.20018. Recent versions of Word should function similarly, but you may see more differences from what I illustrate the older your version of Word is. 

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