At Wise Owl we use Microsoft Word for all of our courseware, and over the years have become expert at this powerful but frustrating software application. This article considers the feature called outline numbering. This allows you to create auto-numbered lists. For example:
1. Microsoft Office
1.1 Excel
1.2 Word
1.3 PowerPoint
2. SQL Server
2.1 SQL
2.2 SSRS
You can do this by modifying styles, and choosing to format their Numbering. Every time that you do this you create a new list template within a list gallery.
The basic problem with list galleries and list templates is that they are – we believe – impossible to understand. We have no problems with writing classes, creating complex relational databases or programming to guru level in C# or VB, but we can not and do not understand how outline numbering works. It is, we believe, the single most complicated software feature that we’ve used.
While preparing a courseware manual template we spent many days trying to get outline numbering to work automatically, and eventually gave up. We now have a VBA macro which removes all numbering from a document, then reimposes it based on the heading levels for styles used. If this sounds a cumbersome approach, we’d agree, but it’s proved reliable.
If you want simple single-level numbering (1, 2, 3, say, or a, b, c) use paragraph numbering and it will work fine. If, on the other hand, you want to have multiple levels of numbering (such as 1.4.2 a)), we would advise you not to use Microsoft Word’s outline numbering feature to set it, but to write VBA macros to apply the numbering instead.
A final thought: if Word outline numbering is the single hardest thing to understand that we’ve come across in computing, what would the second be? Comments please!

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