Word X: Autonumbering features

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 13th, 2003 • 12:03 am

Only one thing to say: Don’t use them. Ever.

They must be one of the most badly broken things in Word in its current incarnation. And that’s saying something.

I just spent an hour trying to fix numbering issues in a document I created by putting together various documents created by my wife. She has the automatic outline numbering feature for her “Heading” styles turned on by default — but I am definitely going to wean her from it now. This thing is just a nightmare. It really behaves as if it has a mind of its own. You can put two consecutive headings in the same style whose definition includes automatic numbering, and ask Word to restart the numbering of the first at “1”, and then the second one starts at “6”! Or the reverse. You tell Word to restart numbering at one, and it says it does, but it still stuck at “7”. Geez.

This stuff is simply unbelievably bad. Even MVP John McGhie over at mvps.org acknowledges it:

Let me warn you: this subject is a real brain-breaker. You can use Word very successfully and professionally without ever knowing or understanding this stuff. I wrote it for the real masochists among us who just have to know how it works. 

When it comes to automatic numbering (or bullets, for that matter) in Word, it’s very much a case of the developers HAVING totally lost control over their creation. I guess we need to create a new software category for this: Frankenware.

Good grief.

My solution: Create a set of “List” styles with the proper negative indents and left indents, and number all your lists manually. The time you’ll waste renumbering things in case of changes to the contents of your lists is nothing next to the time you’ll waste trying to understand Word’s automatic numbering features or to fix problems that they created.

My actual solution is a bit more complex. I have a macro that automatically goes down one level when I press cmd-return at the end of a list item instead of return (and applies “Keep with Next” to the item). Cmd-shift-return goes back up one level (and applies a “Level X – Last Item” style to the last item before going back up, so that I can have extra spacing at the end of a list of items before going back up one level).

It sounds a bit complicated, but it really isn’t, and it works. And it’s much safer than Word’s automatic numbering (or bullets). When it comes to formatted lists, Word is pure evil.

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