Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007 and 2010. 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: Problems Using Words as Bullets.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 20, 2016)
Word allows you to customize the bullet and numbering styles defined within the program. For instance, you can pick a different character to use as a bullet, as has been discussed in other issues of WordTips. You can even synthesize a way to use words as "bullets" if you instead define numbered lists (which are closely associated with bulleted lists) that don't use the numbers, but instead have "trailing text" which effectively functions as the "bullet."
The problem with any such approach is that you are still subject to the same problems that plague bulleted and numbered lists in general. (These have been covered in other issues of WordTips.) It is possible to avoid some of the problems by relying on outline numbering instead of bullets or regular numbering, but problems can still easily crop up.
Quite honestly, most Word experts will admit that there are serious problems with Word's automatic numbering and bulleting features. There are many different things that can affect bullet and numbering styles. For instance, if the Automatically Update check box (in the Modify style dialog box) is set for one of your bullet or numbering styles, then it can cause untold problems as users make explicit changes to paragraphs within the document. Similarly, if the numbering or bullet styles are based on other styles, then changes can cascade from one style to another without warning.
To get around potential problems with formatting bulleted or numbered lists, many advocate sidestepping Word's automatic features all together. Instead, you can develop a series of macros that can handle the numbering or application of bullets. For instance, the following macro can be used to explicitly format a paragraph using a word as a bullet:
Public Sub BulletText() Dim sBullet As String Dim myList As ListTemplate sBullet = InputBox("Enter bullet text:", "Bullet Text", "Note:") ' Add a new ListTemplate object Set myList = ActiveDocument.ListTemplates.Add With myList.ListLevels(1) .NumberFormat = sBullet .TrailingCharacter = wdTrailingTab .NumberPosition = InchesToPoints(0.25) .Alignment = wdListLevelAlignLeft .TextPosition = InchesToPoints(0.75) .TabPosition = InchesToPoints(0.75) .ResetOnHigher = 0 .StartAt = 1 .LinkedStyle = "" ' The following sets the font attributes of ' the "bullet" text With .Font .Bold = True .Name = "Arial" .Size = 10 End With End With ' Apply the new ListTemplate to the selected text Selection.Range.ListFormat.ApplyListTemplate ListTemplate:=myList End Sub
This macro prompts you for the text to use as your "bullet" and then formats the selected paragraphs using your specification. Notice that the macro uses objects known as "ListTemplates." These objects are what you see in the Bullet Library and in the Numbering Library. (The libraries are visible when you click the drop-down arrow next to the Bullets or Numbering tools on the Home tab of the ribbon.) Many of the problems associated with numbering and bullets in Word are related to problems in reliably associating specific ListTemplate objects with specific styles. This macro bypasses those problems by not attempting to do so, but by creating new, custom ListTemplate objects that are applied to individual paragraphs in your document.
The downside of using a macro such as this is that you are relying on explicit formatting rather than on styles. This means that you loose the major benefit of styles, which are consistency and the ability to make universal changes to like-styled paragraphs.
WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (10270) applies to Microsoft Word 2007 and 2010. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Problems Using Words as Bullets.
Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!
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Got a version of Word that uses the ribbon interface (Word 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the menu interface.