Simple List numbering

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Simple Lists are simple to use, but very difficult to understand or fix. But wait... it gets worse: it is essential to understand Simple Lists before you can understand Outline Numbering. And that's... ummmm ... awful!

Common examples of list-based numbering are paragraphs and footnotes. Paragraph numbering can use simple lists, but footnotes always use simple lists.

We all know what a "shopping list" is. It's a list of names of products and the number you need to buy. OK, in Word a Numbered List is a list of paragraphs and the kind of number to put on each of them. If you were to examine the code internally, you would see an HTML-like structure:

Link to a  List Definition
Begin Ordered List
   List item
   List item
   List item
End Ordered List

The whole key to the idea is that a list has a definition, a beginning, one or more items in the list, and an end. The most important distinguishing feature of a "Simple List" is that in a list, there can be only one level of numbering. Numbering levels are explained in the Outline Numbering pages.

In a simple numbered list, a definition says "List number 23 is a sequence of Arabic numerals starting at 1, incrementing by 1, indented 3cm, and formatted in 12-point Times New Roman bold." This definition is a List Template stored at the end of the document (hidden in the Default Section Break that is contained in the last paragraph mark).

To see a typical definition of a List Template, select any item on the Format>Bullets and Numbering dialog and click on the Customise button.

List Galleries

There are three kinds of List Template: bulleted lists, numbered lists and outline numbered lists. These are made available to the user interface via three "List Galleries". The List Galleries are what you see when you select the Format>Bullets and Numbering dialog. A document always has three List Galleries, whether or not the document contains any numbering. All three, plus the seven List Templates associated with each, are stored in the default Section Break – as are any List Templates which don't form part of the List Galleries collection.

The important thing to remember about the List Galleries collection is that it is no more than a series of windows, which allow you to see the first seven List Templates under each of the three categories. No matter how many List Templates the document contains, the List Galleries collection only includes 21 of them.

This is one of the most important reasons why using List Galleries (and therefore why using the Format>Bullets and Numbering dialog) will inevitably lead to highly unstable numbering. Your document may contain 100 List Templates, but only the first seven List Templates (in each category) will be displayed in the dialog or form part of the List Galleries collection.

Furthermore, paragraphs numbered using the dialog (or the List Galleries collection) contain no information about the number formatting to be applied to them, nor do they even contain any information about which List Template they should be attached to! They simply contain the information that "I'm using the fourth List Template from the left on the "Numbered" tab of the Format Bullets and Numbering dialog". The problem with this is that when you paste the list into a different document, or open the same document on a different machine, or even "update styles from template", the  "fourth List Template from the left on the "Numbered" tab of the Format Bullets and Numbering dialog" is now likely to be a different List Template from before!

This is why someone else opening your document is likely to see the list which you had numbered 1, 2, 3 transformed into Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3!

There is only one way of avoiding such problems, (other than resorting to field-based numbering); and that is to avoid using the Format>Bullets and Numbering dialog altogether, and to apply styles instead, which must be created using VBA, using named List Templates.  For details, see How to cure Word's List Numbering with a dose of VBA.

Default List Templates

Word has a set of factory-default List Templates built in. The three supplied List Galleries each contain seven pre-set formats. These settings are hard-coded into Word.

If you use the Format>Bullets and Numbering command, you see a Reset button on the dialog. This resets the selected List Template to its factory default. We often ask people to do this as a preliminary step when trying to fix numbering. It restores each List Template to a known good state.


Applied List Templates

When you create new List Templates, which happens whenever you apply numbering manually, the List Templates actually applied in a document often bear no relation to the List Templates displayed in the Format>Bullets and Numbering dialog.

Unfortunately, Word can have literally hundreds of list definitions in a single document. Some or all of these may be "applied" to the text. Every time you select some text and apply numbering to it using the dialog (or the numbering button), a brand new List Template is created, even if you selected exactly the same numbering option as you had selected the previous time! But the Format>Bullets and Numbering dialog can show you only the seven most-recently used in each of the three categories. (All this is easy to demonstrate using VBA).


Illustration of Simple Lists

Now, somewhere in the document, let's find a sequence of paragraphs in a numbered list. Let's say there are five of them, and they are paragraphs 43 to 48 in the document. Each of them has a tag indicating that it is a member of a list, and a pointer to List Template 23, which formats that list.

Now for the exciting bit: There can be more than one list in the document. "Of course there can," you're thinking. "Any technical manual has lots of little procedures expressed as numbered steps. Maybe five to seven items in each, and maybe one list every couple of pages."

Oh if only it were that simple...

In Word, you can indeed have multiple lists. However, each "list" can have more than two "ends." That sounds absurd, right? That's because it is...

Let's take a typical technical procedure: ten pages and six sets of numbered steps. The first three sets of numbered steps are all members of the same list. The list restarts at "1" three times: at the first paragraph of each of the three sets of numbered steps. The second three sets of numbered steps are also all members of the same list. Again, they each restart at "1" on the first paragraph of each set of numbered steps. To Word, that document contains two lists, not six.

The key distinction I am making is that the thing Word calls a numbered list is a larger structure than that which you or I know as a numbered list. Word considers a numbered list to be what you or I might describe as a "family" of numbered lists.

Think of a sporting goods shop that sells billiard balls. On one shelf, it has several boxes of balls by one manufacturer. Each ball has a number painted on it, as billiard-balls must have. On another shelf, the shop has more boxes of balls by a different manufacturer. Moreover, on a third shelf, three boxes by yet another manufacturer.

What you and I call a "numbered list" is one box of balls. Microsoft Word uses the name "list" for the entire shelf. Microsoft has never been shy about changing the English language to suit itself... 

There may be several shelves of balls in the shop. Each set of numbered steps in the document may be a member of a different list. Or there may be only one shelf. Each numbered list in the document may be a member of the same list.

Unfortunately, that last case is unlikely to be true if we have a document that needs fixing. There is likely to be quite a large number of lists in the document. There's a celebrated bug, reported in the Microsoft Knowledge Base, which explains that things get a bit uncertain when a document contains more than 200 List Templates...

But it can get worse...

Any given paragraph in the document may be a member of any of the lists. If we have seven paragraphs numbered 1 through 7, there is no guarantee that they are all members of the same list. They could each be a member of a different list: one list starts at "1", the next starts at "2", the next starts at "3" ... you get the idea...

Oh, but it can get worse...

How can we tell which list a particular paragraph resides in? Sigh... we can't, unless we use VBA. Short of using Word 2000 to save the document to HTML and reading the code, there is no other way to tell which list a particular paragraph or set of paragraphs currently resides in. We can make some guesses, and in the FAQ about fixing numbering, we will tell you how to improve the accuracy of your guesses, and how to ensure that a given set of paragraphs belongs to a specified list. However, short of saving the document out to HTML and reading the code, there is no way to discover what is wrong.