How to fix Multilevel list in Word

For many, creating and fixing multilevel lists in MS Word is a nightmare. Documents with hundreds of pages and multiple heading levels are particularly difficult to manage in Word. In this article, we’re discussing a few tricks to quickly fix and streamline messy multilevel numbered heading as quickly as possible.

I am assuming, you already know how to create Multilevel list in Word (if not, learn here:

In your current document, where the list numbering has gone wrong:

1.   Select the first heading level and then from the Word Main menu, under the tab Home, within the group Paragraph, click the Multilevel List icon. A drop-down list appears. See below.

2.   From the drop-down list, click option Define New Multilevel List. Define New Multilevel List dialog box appears.


3.   From the dialog box, click button More (available on the left bottom corner). The dialog box expands with additional fields. At this point, understand that the main reasons for the numbered headings going out of order are due to the missing links between heading levels that you have applied and the corresponding default heading styles of Word. We will restore the links using the Define New Multilevel List dialog box.

4.   In the dialog box, you can see the heading levels as 1, 2, 3,….9 on extreme left under the label “Click level to modify”. Assume that these are the heading levels in your document. Click heading “1” and subsequently from the drop-down list Link level to style , select Heading 1 style.


Similarly, restore connections for the rest of the heading levels (heading 2, 3, …etc.) in your document. Click OK.   Once you are done with establishing connections between the heading levels in the document to default heading levels, apply the same to all heading 1s,  all heading 2s, and so on in the document. Keeping your heading 1 selected in the document, click Alt+O+S. The Styles pane appears on the right.

1.   Locate the heading level 1 in the Styles pane.Place mouse cursor over it. The heading level gets selected.

2.   Click the down arrow button on the extreme right. A drop-down list appears. See below image.

3.   From the drop-down list, click option Update Heading 1 to Match Selection. As a result, all the Heading 1s in your document will be linked to default heading 1. Do the same for the rest of the levels (heading 2, heading 3, etc.) in your document.

About wordknowhowhttp://wordknowhow.comThis blog site was started to help people with Microsoft Word. I use Word a lot at work, and I understand that some features are difficult to use. There were no simplified instructions online to help me use these features. It is for this reason that this site exists; to make your life easier with Word. Feel free to post your comments, queries, suggestions, etc. I will do my best to help you!

109 thoughts on “How to fix Multilevel list in Word

  1. Pingback: Fixing Heading Styles in Word | Blog de Clive Long

  2. maybe we should have someone fly a plane into microsoft and then they might try to get it fixed. microsoft sucks ass.

      • Hello, I am experiencing a lot of challenges with the multilevel heading. I am using mac word 2011
        This is the format I would like my headings to follow.
        CHAPTER ONE:
        1.5.2 this becomes 2.5.1
        When I try to use 1.1.1 to format 1.5.1 it turns to 1.1.1. I really struggle with this for the last two days. Please help

        • Hi Almaz, thank you for reaching out to me!….I can understand your frustration. Please follow the steps mentioned in this post carefully:

          Sometimes, even after setting the multilevel list correctly, in the middle Word may behave weirdly. Then you have to go back to the Multilevel list dialog box and readjust the heading levels. If you still have a problem, feel free to reach me. Good Luck!

          • Hello, I have struggled the whole day with the headings. I restart with chapter one, then sometimes chapter two continues with chapter one’s headings. Then when I get chapter two right the rest of the chapters are all messed up. I also attempted adding the list of tables and list of figures and it is not being captured in the TOC. Please, I am submitting my work to you kindly guide me where I am going wrong.

            Best Rgds Almaz

            On Mon, Sep 17, 2018 at 9:11 AM MS Word Know How wrote:

            > wordknowhow commented: “Hi Almaz, thank you for reaching out to me!….I > can understand your frustration. Please follow the steps mentioned in this > post carefully: > > Sometimes, even after setting the multile” >

            • Hello, I finally got the headings and list of figures and tables correct.
              Except I want my Headings 1 to appear like this:
              CHAPTER ONE: TEXT instead I have 1 CHAPTER ONE: text
              CHAPTER TWW: TEXT instead I have 2 CHAPTER TWO: text
              when I attempt to modify by substituting none for Heading one I mess up all my headings setup.

  3. This was helpful but didn’t really address the issue with this 86+ page document. A section is successfully numbered and completed. Move to the next section and successfully set the numbering. Move to the next section and successfully set the numbering and so forth. Then for some unknown reason the numbers will convert to bullets or consecutive numbers from the beginning of the doc in the section I’m working and…affect the ENTIRE doc. So all those successfully numbered sections are now all bullets, or the letters are no longer a, b, c but ffff., gggg, hhhh and the numbers are no longer 1, 2, 3 in the fourth section but are 56, 57 58. Go back. Fix ’em all. Save. Work some more and you guested it they all go their own way. Have tried styles, multi-list (which by the way does not allow line spacing) to no avail. Any suggestions?

    • It’s true, Word becomes highly unstable as the number of pages increase…I faced this issue very often. What you can do is just 1) Select and copy (Ctrl+C) the heading style and paste (Ctrl+V) it over the one, which has gone out of the order 2) Go back to your Multilevel list dialog box and set the styles once more.

  4. Pingback: How to use multilevel numbered headings in Word 2007 « MS Word Know How

  5. Very helpful. Thank you.
    I’m having trouble with something. Maybe you can help me?

    I have a semi-legal document that follows this multilevel numbering scheme:

    Article I.
    Article II.
    Section 2.1
    Section 2.2
    Subsection 2.2.a
    Subsection 2.2.b

    I have successfully setup my multilevel list to automate this scheme … except for one thing. To convert the roman numeral to an arabic numeral I checked the box for ‘legal style numbering’, but in the Subsection it also changes the ‘a’, ‘b’ to ‘1’, ‘2’. Why can’t I have my cake and eat it too?

    Subsection II.2.a Subsection 2.2.1, but not how the document originally had it.

    If anyone knows a solution to this I would greatly appreciate your knowledge.

    Thanks in advance.


  6. Thank you for your post. but i am having a problem with my multilevel numbering i want to change the front size of the Template which work perfectly but the numbering in the list didn’t change. i have tried to change it bbut the size of the number stiil deferent from all my document. how can i modify these numbers.

  7. I am experiencing the same issue as Keile from the January 8, 2018 comment. In my document, each subsequent top level section is incrementing by one. So, for example, In Section 2 I don’t get a 2.1, it starts at 2.2. Then Section 3 level two is 3.3.
    I’ve included each previous level number when formatting each subsequent level’s number in the “modify multilevel list” dialog box. I also linked each level to its corresponding heading style. Since the issue happens with each new section in an incremental way, I’m sure it is something obvious I’m doing wrong, but I’m stuck on what it is.

  8. So grateful for this tutorial! I’d set up my multilevel list right at the beginning of bringing my separate pieces together to work on my thesis. It worked great and I felt so smug about it all the time! About a week ago the whole thing went beserk and I could not get it to cooperate again… In the depths of despair I googled it every which way and couldn’t get it to work at all! Came across your post and here I am fully functioning and extremely grateful!

  9. Hi there, love your helpful posts. This is the problem I am having:
    1, 2 , 3 & 4 are Level 1 headings, 1.1, 1.2 Level 2 headings

    1 General
    1.1 This contract makes no provision for…
    1.2 Provisional sums include…
    2 Local Authority
    1.3 Council consents are the responsibility of…
    1.4 Building consent is included to the sum of….
    3 Engineering
    1.5 Geotechnical engineering is not included.

    See what is happening? My level 2 headings don’t carry through the numbering of the level 1 heading above it, the numbering is just all flowing on from the very first heading.

    How to fix this please? You had me at “gruesome” in your article! 🙂


    • Hi Keile, thanks for reaching out to me. It is happening because the previous level number is not getting included in the current one (using the field ‘include level number from’ in the Define New Multilevel List dialog box).

      You once again have to go through the steps in the Define ‘Multilevel List’ dialog box. Word has this bug, the values get reset in this dialog box. So, please follow the steps mentioned in the post once again. Thanks.

      • This is happening for me too. At level 3 only…. I swear I have followed the guide many times to the key but Heading 3 will not work. It still reverts to 1.1.1-14! I do as you say 3= Heading 3 = then where I enter formatting for numbers 1.1.1 I do the following 1. include level number from 1 then do a dot, then include level number form Level 2, then hit number style for this level ‘1,2,3’ .

        I’m going bonkers!!!

  10. I have created the list I want but why is the option of “Include level number from” is not working with me.

    I want to have it like that:
    Chapter 1

    Chapter 2

    What I have is:
    Chapter 1

    Chapter 2

    and i can’t fix it.

    PS. This is in a master document file. In the sub documents it is working fine

    • ‘Include level number:’ field gets enabled only when you modify the 2nd level to modify and thereafter for rest of the levels. For the first level you don’t need this field. That is why it is disabled.

  11. Word 2010: I really only want to correct a couple of levels in an EXISTING numbered list. It seems like there is no way to simply edit an existing list without re-creating it each time. Highly frustrating.

  12. I’ve got this working great and all my numbered headings and my ‘normal’ heading are showing correctly with

    1. First level
    1.1. Second Level
    1.2. Second Level
    1.1.1 Third Level
    2. First Level
    .. and so on.

    So I’ve gone and saved this document as a template. However, when I reload it, all my lists have reverted to

    I. First level
    I.a. Second Level
    I.b. Second Level
    I.a.i Third Level
    II. First Level

    I look in my list styles and it shows this (which is correct)
    1.0 ———
    1.1 ———
    1.1.1 —-

    It is also there in the list library, but I click on it to change it to the desired list and it doesn’t do anything. I’ve tried “define new list style” and making sure that “all new documents created have this style”. I’ve made sure that all headings are “all new documents created have this style”, but nothing seems to be working.

    Maybe can you help? Thank you!

  13. Very, very helpful! I was wondering if you could help with two related problems regarding the usage of styles in captions. By default, when you create a caption and toggle the field codes you get:

    Figure {STYLEREF 1 \s}. {SEQ Figure \* ARABIC \s 1}

    PROBLEM 1:

    The “1” is supposed to refer to the level 1 style, which in my document is “Heading 1 Numbered”. If I leave the STYLEREF 1 alone I get:

    Figure Error! No text of specified style in document. 2

    If I replace the “1” with “Heading 1 Numbered” I can get the correct number to display, but this requires a manual edit of each caption. With more than a hundred figures, this is less than desirable.

    PROBLEM 2: The sequence numbering is supposed to reset to 1 at the beginning of a new level 1 section (at least that’s my understanding of the “ARABIC \s 1” field code). Again, the occurrence of a new level 1 paragraph is not recognized and the sequence just continues. In this case, even replacing the “1” with the “Heading 1 Numbered” does not do the trick.

    Any ideas on fixing these problems?

  14. This post shows real light to this recurring embarrassing problem.

    As you are doing so much work to help us, would you mind providing a blank document with the style applied. That way, anyone can download your blank document, rename and use it. It will save the painful steps.

  15. Hi WordKnowHow,

    Thank you for this. I wonder if you could also help me with my specific problem. I already have a multi-level list in my document. I did not prepare it, so I do not want to do too many changes to it. There are 2 sections in the document that have their own table of contents. Section 1 has 1-35 numbered multi-level headings, while Section 2 has 1-28 numbered multi-level headings.

    My problem is that the headings in Section 2 start with 36. I want to retain the form, margin, indentations, etc, etc, except that I want the number to change from 36 to 1, and so on. How do I do this without manually making the settings for each level (since I really do not know what the settings are)? I really hope you can help me. Thank you.

  16. You will have no idea how much this has helped me. My current team developed a template in Word to create some training materials and there has been a style for our steps that has plagued me for two years. TWO YEARS. Every time I’d have to restart the numbering sequence of our steps, the alignment would go all wonky no matter what settings I configured for my style, so there would be a lot of manual readjustment…but no longer.

    I did not know that my style (which was a numbering format) was linked to/defined by the multilevel list. This simple step has fixed it all. The style is not ‘broken’ any more – every time I need to restart the numbering at 1, the indents/alignment stays the way it should.

    Freaking Wow – and THANK YOU!!!!

  17. Great tutorial. I have been fighting this for days. I have set my multi-level list. However, level 4, 5 and 6 will NOT stay linked. I am beginning the multi level list from the first instance of level 1, following the steps. At first it works, then when you go deeper into the document, level 4, 5 and 6 becomes unlinked. When you go back into the multi-level list, I link them again, and it still happens…I need a solution to this. I have been searching for days.

    Thank you

  18. How can I move an item to a lower number, if the list is in a table? When I press Tab, the cursor simply move to another box

  19. How can I move an item to a lower number, if the list is inside a table? When I press Tab, the cursor simply move to another box

  20. Hi Anupam –

    Thank you for the great tutorial. The problem I am having is a bit different. My multilevel header structure (1. 1.1 1.1.1 etc.) is working great. In addition to the headers I also use multilevel lists (A. 1. a. 1). etc.)

    I use the multilevel lists anywhere in the document under any Header level.

    How do I configure the multilevel list to restart at A when I cross any Header level?

  21. Thanks, these instructions are great.

    I am trying to number both headings and paragraphs in a document. I tried legal numbering but I had to apply a heading style to the paragraph and that doesn’t work because the paragraph could be at any level, eg:

    1. Heading level 1
    1.1 Paragraph text
    1.2 Heading level 2
    1.2.1 Paragraph text
    1.3 Heading level 2
    1.3.1 Heading level 3 Paragraph text

    and so on.

    Unfortunately I need all 9 heading levels to be automatically numbered but I want to number each individual paragraph to fall under the heading with the next sequential number too. Is there any way to do this apart from manually and then that stuffs up the auto numbered headings?

    • Since you can’t link two styles to the same list level, and your basic paragraph style can occur on any level, it sounds like you would have to create your basic paragraph style as a “character” type style. Character styles can be applied over other styles, usually for emphasis within a paragraph, and that should allow you to keep the numbering of the list level at the same time as the other attributes of your basic paragraph.

  22. Thanks. Do you know how to have numbered headings up to Heading level 9 plus numbered paragraphs that could be numbered from directly under a heading level 1 down to a heading level 9? For example:

    1. Heading level 1
    1.1 Paragraph text.
    1.2 Heading level 2
    1.2.1 Paragraph text

    and so on?

    I can’t make the paragraph a heading level as it will be pulled into the TOC and will need different styles from the headings. I thought of legal numbering but this doesn’t seem to work either.

  23. Heys 😉

    Great post, really helpful. Wish I’d found it earlier.


    I have levels 1-6 in my document, and I have the following format


    Now what’s happening is that level 4 is just not behaving.
    It’s resetting to only restart list after level 2, not 3.


  24. Looking for Multi-Level List Guru’s

    I am using a defined list that I have created.

    I want my Level one to be 1.1 where both are changing number fields and I want my level 2 to follow this format.

    What I am trying to achieve is in section 1 I want 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc and then in section 2 I want 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc onwards to section 3, 4, 5.

    I am also linking them to the heading styles.

    Another question is when I modify my headings in the styles like indentations tabs etc the updates are not applying to the defined multi level list that was created. So if I am redefining a level it changes my document back to the multi-level list format.

    If I can’t build the ML List like I want what is a round about way of doing this so I do not have to manually change each section to suit my needs.

    Please help.

  25. I found your post extremely helpful. It certainly got me on the right track. The thing is: I do want to create a document with multiple list and multiple multilevel list, and so, I created a whole bunch of Styles so that word allows me to create multiple iterations of everything. e.g:

    Headings 1, 2, 3…. These are the defaults
    Level 1, 2, 3, 4…… This one, I created based on the heading it needs to look like.
    Part 1, 2, 3, 4………..Second one I created based on headings

    And so, I can have what I want

  26. I followed these directions now all my 2nd headings are numbered 1.1, what’s the problem. They should be 1.1, 1.2, 1.3……..2.1, 2.2, 2.3……..

      4.1. Airport Safety 8
      4.2 Volumetric Capacity 8
      2.3 Site Life Estimate 8
      2.4 Soil Availability 8
      4.5 Topography 9
      2.4.1 Climatology 9
      4.6.1 Isohyetal Map and Precipitation 9
      1.1.1 4.6.2 Floodplain 10
      1.1.1 4.6.3 Design Storm 10
      1.1.1 4.6.4 Evaporation 10
      1.1.1 4.6.5 Run-on and Runoff Volume and Pattern 10
      1.1.1 4.6.6 Wind Rose 11
      4.7 Geology 11
      1.1.1 4.7.1 Regional Geology 11
      1.1.1 4.7.2 Local Geology 13
      4.8 Regional Faulting and Seismicity 13
      4.9 Engineering and Chemical Properties of Soil 14
      1.1.1 4.9.1 Stability Analysis 14
      4.10 Hydrogeologic Setting 16
      1.1.1 Regional Hydrogeology 16
      1.1.1 Site Hydrogeology 16
      1.1.1 4.10.3 Groundwater Quality 18
      1.1.1 4.10.4 Groundwater Use 18
      2.4.2 Ancillary and Other Site Facilities 19
      2.5 5.1 Design Standards 20
      2.6 5.2 Design Responsibility 20
      2.7 General Design Parameters 21
      Previous Design 21
      Future Designs 21
      1.1.1 22
      1.1.1 5.3.3 Climatological Factors 22
      1.1.1 5.3.4 Seismic Design 22
      1.1.1 5.3.5 Maximum Height 23
      1.1.1 5.3.6 Minimum Refuse Elevation 23
      1.1.1 5.3.7 Minimum Five-Foot Separation to Groundwater 23
      1.1.1 5.3.8 Service Area 24
      1.1.1 5.3.9 Entrance Features 24
      1.1.1 5.3.10 Use by Transfer Vehicles 24
      1.1.1 5.3.11 Use by General Public (Self-Haul) 24
      2.8 Cover 25
      1.1.1 Cover Materials 25
      1.1.1 Cover Frequency 25
      1.1.1 Intermediate Cover 25
      1.1.1 Alternate Daily Cover 25
      1.1.1 26
      1.1.1 Beneficial Reuse 26
      2.9 Leachate Collection and Recovery System 26
      1.1.1 Existing Leachate Collection System 26
      1.1.1 Future Leachate Collection System 27
      1.1.1 Collection and Removal 28
      1.1.1 Vadose Zone Monitoring Sump 29
      2.10 Drainage 30
      2.11 Construction Sequencing Plans 30
      1.1.1 General 30
      1.1.1 5.7.2 Excavation and Stockpiling 31
      2.1 Operating Criteria 32
      1.1.1 6.1.1 Hours of Operation 32
      1.1.1 6.1.2 Description of Operating Cycle 33
      1.1.1 6.1.3 Disposal Site Records 33
      1.1.1 6.1.4 Site Security and Access 35
      1.1.1 6.1.5 Sanitary Facilities 35
      1.1.1 6.1.6 Potable Water Supply 35
      1.1.1 6.1.7 Communications and Early Warning Systems 35
      1.1.1 6.1.8 Lighting 36
      1.1.1 6.1.9 Safety Equipment 36
      1.1.1 6.1.10 Personnel Requirements and Training 37
      1.1.1 6.1.11 Staffing 38
      1.1.1 6.1.12 Personnel Training 39
      1.1.1 6.1.13 Supervisory Structure 39

      • Sometimes, it may be needed to set the links more than once in the Multilevel List dialog box….so click the multilevel list icon from Home >> Paragraph >> Multilevel list and then click ‘Define multilevel new list’ from the drop-down list. In the dialog box, repeat the same steps as stated in the blog post.

      • Please click back the ‘Multilevel List’ icon in the ‘Paragraph’ group of the main menu and then re-link the Level 1 with Heading 1, etc. Then it should work fine. Sometime, Word behaves weirdly!

  27. HI there, great instructions! Would you be also able to give instructions on how to amend multi level lists within a table

    • Word allows only one multilevel list in the entire document irrespective of the place where you create it (within a table or elsewhere). But you can create references manually by hyperlinking.

  28. Nice post, but how to copy a multilevel list definition from one document to another? I’d like to avoid defining it all over again.

  29. I have a question regarding having a separate list “embedded” within a larger multilevel list.

    We have a template set up with a multi-level list connected to headings to provide numbers headings and subheadings throughout the document. Within the paragraphs under these headings, we often want to place a bulleted or numbered list. However, clicking the “Numbered List” button in the ribbon causes the “normal” text selected to the elevated to a Heading, with document-level numbering and all! It seems to be possible to select the drop-down arrow next to the numbered list button to select a different list style. Is there any way to make one of these alternate, paragraph-level lists the ‘default’?


      • Sorry I missed this! I’m unable to understand you clearly. if you can define a new numbering list, save the same as a template and use as a default numbering style every time you create a new document. You need not select a numbered list from the menu. Your styles would be available in the styles gallery.

  30. Feeling really stupid but this does not make sense to me. I am not having trouble with levels 1-3 but I cannot get level 4 heading to work correctly. Please help

  31. Pingback: How to use multilevel numbered headings in Word 2007 « MS Word Know How

  32. Tip for those who used this but then had trouble when using more than one multilevel list in a document. Prior to changing an item in the list from one list to another, select None. Then select the list you want, creating a new one if need be. Also watch out for whether you’re applying changes to the Whole List or This Point Forward.

  33. Is there a way to have the first digit automatically be the Section its in? Like Section 2 2.1.1, Section 3 3.1.1, without making a new style for every section?

  34. Thanks a ton, this set me on the right track after much frustrated time-wasting and plenty of less-useful advice online.

  35. Sooooo simple! Even after 15 years of using Word I have been missing some of the most important clues… Thank you!

  36. Oh, thank god for this post. I was seconds away from just throwing the computer out the window. Very frustrating. All is well now.

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