Line and Paragraph numbering in Word

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How to number lines and paragraphs in Word.

When you’re discussing a speech or other document ‘in progress’ you might want to number the lines or paragraphs for easy reference “Please change paragraphs 6, 7, 21 and 27”. Sure, these days there’s a lot of linking and online collaboration but there’s also a place for face-to-face collaboration with paper drafts.

Line numbering will give you left hand line numbering like this:

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It’s a simple thing – line or paragraph numbering – but as usual in Microsoft Office, there’s complications and surprising pitfalls. doesn’t just give you the simple ‘Microsoft approved’ answer but digs deeper.

Line Numbering

Line numbering is simple in Word. Go to Page Layout tab click on the small arrow at bottom right of the Page Setup section to reach the Page Setup dialog then Layout | Line Numbers. This dialog and option hasn’t changed for many versions of Word.

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In Word 2007, Word 2010 and Word 2013 the Page Layout tab has a Line Numbers pull down, as you can see in the image below.

The full Line Numbering dialog has options for continuous line numbers or numbering for each page or section also the start number and increments. ‘From text’ controls the distance between the numbering and the document text.

Line numbering can be applied on a per-paragraph basis to selected paragraphs or the entire document. (Strictly speaking you can have line numbering for a single line but the results aren’t helpful – try for yourself).

The line numbering can be stopped at any time or suspended for selected paragraphs via Line Numbering | Suppress for Current Paragraph or Paragraph dialog | Line and Page Breaks | Formatting exceptions | Suppress line numbers.

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Change the font

You can change the look of just the line numbers using the ‘Line Number’ style.

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Line Number is one of those annoying hidden Word styles. It doesn’t show up in the ‘In use’ or ‘In current document’ style lists even when it’s being used in the document. You have to choose ‘All Styles’ to see the Line Number style and modify it.

Curiously, line numbering itself isn’t a formatting option in Paragraph styles. At least we can’t find it.

You can use a style to suppress line numbering at Format Paragraph | Line and Page Breaks | Formatting Exceptions | Suppress Line Numbers.

However styles can’t enable the line numbering in the first place. That’s a curious omission since Microsoft developers themselves should be aware of one common use for line numbering – in samples of computer code. These samples are usually formatted with a special style (fixed space font, indent and a special color) to which automatic line numbering would be very useful.

Paragraph numbering

Since there’s line numbering in Word, you’d expect to also find a paragraph numbering option. It’s common to find draft documents with paragraphs numbered so that people can refer to each by that number (“We mention government oversight in paragraphs 6, 7, 9 and 12”).

There’s no direct option for paragraph numbering in Word that works similarly to the line numbering feature.

The workaround is to use numbered lists instead. It’s not a good workaround but it’s what Microsoft leaves us with.

Select the paragraphs then choose Numbering to make a numbered list.

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Unfortunately, the defaults for this also mess up the formatting of your document.

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If the document already has numbers or lists, making this choice will override that formatting (we did say this is a workaround).

To fix the formatting, change the position of the numbers to put them in the margin as a hanging indent. You can do that by dragging the ruler markers to the left.

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Or in the Format Paragraph dialog box, a Before Text indent plus a Hanging indent both of the same value.

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You can create or modify a style to do this and turn on/off quickly.

Wish List

As usual, there’s features missing from Word’s numbering options that really should be present in such a long standing product. We mention these to save you the trouble of looking for options that Microsoft left out.

We’ve already mentioned there’s no real paragraph numbering option that numbers the paragraphs without changing the formatting of the document. This omission alone makes us wonder about Microsoft’s customer research and decision making process.

Sometimes line/paragraph numbering should be on the right of the page. On the right it’s less obtrusive and would be more appropriate for ‘right-to-left’ languages.

For longer documents, it could be useful to show the line/paragraph number range in the header/footer for example “ Page 7 Paras 23-28 “ .

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