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 on New Paragraph Doesn't Work as Expected.

Numbering on New Paragraph Doesn't Work as Expected

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated April 6, 2021)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, and 2013


Joel is setting up a template in Word that uses outline numbering. When he sets the insertion point at the end of a line and presses Enter, the numbering does not continue. The only thing that works is moving the insertion point to the left of the period at the end of the line and then pressing Enter. This carries the period to the next paragraph and the new paragraph then has the proper numbering format. Joel wonders how to avoid using that crutch. He wants others who use the template to hit Enter and just keep typing the next item in the outline with no problem.

The most likely cause of this behavior is actually a built-in feature of Word. When you define a style you can specify what style should be used for the paragraph that follows this one. That may sound confusing, but it isn't really that tough if you remember that Word allows you to specify what style should be applied to the next paragraph you type, after you press Enter. You can set up that capability for an existing style by following these steps:

  1. Display the Home tab of the ribbon and then click the small icon at the bottom-right of the Styles group. Word displays the Styles task pane.
  2. In the list of styles shown, hover the mouse pointer over the name of the style you want to change. A drop-down arrow should appear at the right side of the style name.
  3. Click the drop-down arrow and choose Modify. Word displays the Modify Style dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Modify Style dialog box.

  5. In the Style For Following Paragraph drop-down list, select an existing style that you want to follow this style. In a numbered list it is good to pick the name of the same style you are modifying. (That way, when you press Enter, the new paragraph will continue to use the same style.)
  6. Click on OK.
  7. Close the task pane.

There are some caveats that you should keep in mind. First, you'll want to pay attention to which styles you are modifying and whether your modification makes sense for all the uses for which the style may be used. For instance, if you are using a numbering scheme that is linked, in some way, to the heading styles defined in Word, you may not want to change the "Style for Following Paragraph" setting for your heading styles. The reason is because there are many times where you want the style after a Heading to naturally be whatever style you are using for your body text, not another instance of the same heading.

In this case, the solution is to make sure that you set up a group of styles that will be used specifically for your numbering purposes, separate from your heading styles.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (8377) 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 on New Paragraph Doesn't Work as Expected.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is seven more than 9?

2021-09-21 13:57:36

Vicky Rancourt

THANK YOU !! :) Super helpful.

2021-04-06 08:30:25


Thanks to Mr. Wyatt, I learned to use styles years ago; it was relatively easy for an AutoCAD user I am used to layers and the two concepts are nearly identical. If you use styles and multi-level lists correctly, it is virtually impossible to break numbering, and if you do, just reapply the style to the offending numbering and it will re-establish itself. I personally found the easiest ways is to just modify the built-in heading styles and make them look the way I want.

One other tip...when you set up a style you can also set up a shortcut key for this. Imaginatively, I use <CTL>-<ALT>-<1> for Heading 1, <CTL>-<ALT>-<2> for Heading get the picture.

2018-08-07 21:39:51


Thanks! This was helpful!

2017-11-10 15:13:47


I can't for the life of me figure out what I am doing wrong. My paragraphs are numbering weird. See (see Figure 1 below)
My paragraph 2 "New class" is numbered correctly but the sub list start at "e" when they should be at "a". I've included the style definition to aid you in helping me :)

Figure 1. Wonky outline numbering

2017-10-31 14:57:43


Excellent worked like a charm

2016-05-24 18:39:15

Joe Manfred

Fully agree with That Guy. Why the f do I have to spend 30 minutes googling how to use Word everytime I want to do something that worked better 10 years ago.

Autonumbering and styles are complete BS. Stupid bold and italics formatting are embedded in various default styles, the fonts change - always back to Calabri - even if the entire doc is in Arial. Stupid font sizes - why would I want 18 point body text when my entire doc is 11 point?

I can't even work out how to force numbering to move from 1.8, 1.9, 1.10 to 2.0 - I get 1.11 and if I really try, I get 1.11.1.

Whats worse is the bugs that have existed for 20 years are still there. They havn't re-written Word, they've just added more stupid features and ruined the UI (anytime I do something a little "complex" I get an old NT / XP style dialog which has no semblance to the UI design of Win 7 or Win 10).

I agree, pirate away.

2016-01-06 10:55:00

Joyce Robbins

Great tip, thanks so much! I couldn't figure out why hitting Enter sometimes created a new item and sometimes didn't, and this solved it. (Word for Mac 2011).

2015-08-14 05:36:50


Well it's not helping me.

Word has suddenly decided on numbering that you go

2015-02-03 14:52:38


This does nothing to change the line numbering in Word 2013. It only changes the body.

2015-01-13 11:49:46


Thank you, excellent!

2014-11-24 18:40:30


This is worthless. It does not jive with 2013, the options are not available, and once again, Word has succeeded in making something that could be the simplest thing in the world IMPOSSIBLE instead.

I'm going to start pirating everything Microsoft makes, and I'll never feel bad about it. They've already stolen so much time from me.


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