Line And Paragraph Numbering In Word

How to number lines and paragraphs in Microsoft Word and format the numbers with a different font, size or color. Plus some ‘wish list’ features that are missing from 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 still a place for line or paragraph numbering.

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

Word line numbering image from Line and Paragraph numbering in Word at

Line numbering is simple. Paragraph numbering is done indirectly. 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 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.

Word line numbering image from Line and Paragraph numbering in Word at

In Word the Layout tab has a Line Numbers pull down.

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).

Stop or Suspend Line Numbering

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.

Change the look for line numbers

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

Word line numbering image from Line and Paragraph numbering in Word at

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.

Word line numbering image from Line and Paragraph numbering in Word at

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

Word line numbering image from Line and Paragraph numbering in Word at

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.

Word line numbering image from Line and Paragraph numbering in Word at

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

Word line numbering image from Line and Paragraph numbering in Word at

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

Change look of Paragraph numbering

Paragraph numbering is formatted with the List Paragraph style. Or select one of the numbers so the whole column of numbers is selected, then change the formatting

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.

Can’t number without changing formatting

We’ve already mentioned there’s no real paragraph numbering option that numbers the paragraphs without changing the formatting of the document. In other words, numbering in the normally empty margin.

This omission alone makes us wonder about Microsoft’s customer research and decision making process. There are plenty of ‘use cases’ for numbered paragraphs retaining formatting.

Numbering on the right

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.

Numbering rows in tables

This suggestion from Office Watch reader, Lili H.

“Line numbering that continues when a table is introduced in the text.

Word includes a line number at the beginning of the table and continues line numbering after the table rather than providing a line number for each row of the table. It defeats the purpose of using line numbers to refer to a particular place in the document if the rows do not have line numbers. “

Numbering ranges in Header/Footer

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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