Note: This article is for Word versions 2003 and earlier. For Word 2007 and 2010, see Word 2007/2010 Number Alignment.
Keeping Numbers in Line
Word offers a number of ways to align text in documents, using paragraph alignment, tabs, indents, and tables. But the alignment of numbers can be a special challenge. This article discusses two different types of number alignment:
If you don’t have much experience with, or very frequent need for, numbered lists, you probably apply auto numbering using the Numbering button on the Formatting toolbar (Figure 1).
This can be risky in a number of ways, but one of the most obvious is that it applies a standard numbering format that may not be suitable for your list. It works great for short lists—nine items or fewer—but when you get to 10 or more, one or both of two things happen (see Figure 2):
This article will tell you how to solve both problems. Ideally, you should apply numbering by using a specific style that includes your customized numbering format, but even if you just use Normal style for everything and apply numbering with the Numbering button, the customizations I’ll describe here will apply so long as the number format you customized remains the default (if you choose a different format in the Numbering dialog, then it becomes the new default).
Equalizing the space
Let’s deal with the second problem first; this is an issue often seen in numbered headings. Suppose you apply numbering to Heading 1 using the default numbering style. The result will look like Figure 2. The reason for this is that the numbering has a hanging indent at 0.5″, allowing only 0.25″ between the left side of the first digit (which is at 0.25″) and the right side of the tab character following the number and period. This is adequate for numbered paragraphs in body text (using 12-point Times New Roman), but the heading uses much larger type. So the numbers 1–9, with following period and tab character, fit comfortably within this 0.25″ space, but when the numbers reach two digits, the combination becomes wider than 0.25″ and so the tab goes to the next default tab stop, at 1″.
The solution for this problem is to increase the size of the hanging indent. Note that this cannot be done on the ruler or in the Format | Paragraph dialog; it must be done in the Customize Numbered List dialog (see Figure 3). To access this dialog, go to Format | Bullets and Numbering and click on Customize... (without changing the pane selected in the Bullets and Numbering dialog). In the case of the default Heading 1 style, it will be sufficient to increase the “Tab space after” and “Indent at” settings to 0.6″.
Even if you have corrected this problem in the headings themselves, the problem will be replicated in a table of contents. Word generates tab stops in TOC styles dynamically, based on your layout and content. It sets a right-aligned tab stop at the right margin and a left indent that allows space for the paragraph number, punctuation (if any), and tab character. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, it sets the tab stop at 0.33″ for paragraphs with single-digit numbers and at 0.5″ for double-digit numbers! Presumably this is to allow the same amount of space between the numbers and the text.
So, once again, you will have to correct the setting. On the ruler, drag the tab stop following the numbers to a new position. Since the tab stop for the single-digit numbers allows enough room for the double-digit ones, unless you are going to increase the font size, you can drag the marker in one of the double-digit entries to the same position as the one in the single-digit ones.
If some entries are long enough to run over to a second line, you may want to add a hanging indent (at the same position as the tab stop), as well as a right indent to make the text wrap short of the page numbers; this can be done using the ruler or through the Format | Paragraph dialog. (Note that if you use the ruler you will probably have to move the right tab stop in order to grab the right indent marker; be sure to move it back once you have the indent adjusted to your satisfaction.) For more on this type of formatting, see “TOC Tips and Tricks.”
Aligning on punctuation
Even when you have properly aligned the text following the numbers, the numbers still don’t look very nice. It is preferable to have them aligned on the periods or other punctuation following them (or the right edge of the number if there is no punctuation). This is also easily done.
Return to the Numbering dialog and choose “Right” for the number position. Depending on circumstances, this change may result in changes in the other settings, or you may have to fine-tune them yourself. You can experiment to figure out what combination of “Aligned at,” “Tab space after,” and “Indent at” will work best for the text in question. If you are using the default numbering style, which has “Aligned at” set at 0.25″, there will be plenty of room between the right side of the number and your left margin for single- or double-digit numbers. Using 12-point Times New Roman, 0.1″ is usually sufficient space between the number and the following text, so a setting of 0.35″ for “Tab space after” and “Indent at” will be good. For larger text, such as headings, you will need to adjust accordingly.
If you let Word create a table of contents, table of figures, or index for you, you will see that, by default, it puts the page numbers at the right page or column margin, with a row of dots between the titles and the page numbers. To do this, it uses a right-aligned tab stop with a period leader. You can achieve the same effect when you need to create a table of contents manually or for similar applications such as programs, menus, price lists, and the like (see Figure 9). Here’s how:
A right-aligned tab stop works well when your numbers all have the same number of decimal places (or none) and when numbers are the only text to be aligned. But what if you have a combination of assorted numbers with different numbers of decimal places, negative numbers enclosed in parentheses, numbers followed by an asterisk or other reference mark, percent sign, or the like? For this you need a decimal tab stop.
You can insert a decimal tab stop the same way you did the right-aligned tab, either in the Tabs dialog (selecting “Decimal” as the Alignment) or on the ruler (one more click on the button will give you the upside-down T with a dot that indicates a decimal tab stop). The secret of a decimal tab stop is that it aligns numbers on the decimal point—even when there isn’t one there! In effect, it aligns numbers on the first non-numeric character (other than the thousands separator) following the numbers, whether this is a period, a parenthesis, an asterisk, or alphabetic text. See Figure 10.
This article copyright © 2007 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.