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Numbering with Sequence Fields

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Numbering With Sequence Fields.

Word includes a special sequencing field that you can use to do all sorts of numbering. You can even use the SEQ field to help create broken numbered lists. (A broken numbered list is one in which the flow of the list is interrupted by paragraphs of a different format.) This approach to creating numbered lists is particularly helpful and much less prone to the problems inherent in Word's built-in list numbering. For the purposes of this tip, the format of the sequence field is as follows:

{seq ident}

In this format, ident is replaced with a unique identifier for the sequence in question. Thus, you could have several sequences in a single document. For instance, one numbered sequence could use an identifier of MajorNum1, and another use an identifier of MajorNum2. The identifiers you use are entirely up to you.

You should understand that the sequence field can be much more powerful than implied in this tip. If you want additional information on how it can be used, you should refer to the on-line help for the SEQ field.

When you use the sequence field, and then combine it with the AutoText capabilities of Word, you have a powerful combination for creating numbered lists in your documents. As an example of how you can do this, follow these steps:

  1. Position the insertion point where you want the sequential number to appear. For instance, this would be in the caption for the table or figure.
  2. Press Ctrl+F9 to insert field brackets. Make sure the insertion point stays between the brackets.
  3. Type "seq NumList" (without the quote marks).
  4. Press F9 to update the field information. Word replaces the field with the next number in the sequence you have specified.
  5. If you want a period, tab, or some other character after the number, enter it after the number generated by the SEQ field.
  6. Select everything you created in steps 1 through 5.
  7. Press Alt+F3. Word displays the Create New Building Block dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  8. Figure 1. The Create New Building Block dialog box.

  9. In the Name field enter a name by which you want this highlighted text known. This should be something short and meaningful, such as NumList or even NL.
  10. Click on the OK button. The dialog box closes.

Now whenever you want to insert the number, type the name you defined in step 7, and then press the F3 key. The field is entered in the document. Note that the number always shows up as 1, but it is updated when you print, or when you select the entire list and press F9.

The process described in this tip works best if you have a single list in your document. Note that the sequence field starts at the beginning of the document and numbers through the whole document, based on the identifier you use. If you are going to have multiple lists in your document, then you can add a second AutoText entry to help with this. The only difference in the above steps is that the SEQ field you define would look like this:

{ seq NumList \r1 }

The addition of the \r1 switch causes Word to start the sequence counter over at 1. You would use this whenever you wanted to start a new list, and use the regular field for the rest of your numbered items. (If you want to start the list over at a number other than 1, use the starting number right after \r.)

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (8180) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Numbering With Sequence Fields.

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Comments for this tip:

Bob    20 Dec 2014, 11:23
Just struggled through exactly the same issue. Copy the 1st page onto the second, right click on the each inserted number, and click update field, then select that page, copy and then paste for as many pages as you need. Select all these pages and hit F9, and as if by magic, all the number will fill in.
Sandy Hymas    23 Oct 2014, 17:12
How do I specify the number I want to start my sequence (Step 4)
I want to start with 79196 not 1
Allen W    04 Oct 2014, 12:29
I am trying to use mailmerge to print tickets. I tried using a column of sequential numbers on a spreadsheet and inserting that as a field into the mailmerge, but oddly, it used number 8 eight times on the first page, number 16 eight times on the second page, etc. So, I tried using a sequencing field as you describe. It worked great for the first page (numbers 1-8) but when I completed the mailmerge, it repeated numbers 1-8 on each successive sheet. What do I have to do to make this work in a mailmerge?

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