Note: This article is for Word 2007 and above. For Word versions 2003 and earlier, see 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 in the Paragraph group on the Home tab of the Ribbon (Figure 1).
This can be risky in a number of ways, not least of which is that the button alone always applies whatever numbering style was last selected from the gallery (which may not be the one you want this time), but even if you select the "right" number format, it may not be suitable for your list. The built-in number formats work 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 number format, but Word 2007 also provides "list styles" that can apply numbering to any paragraph style, and numbering can also be applied manually to any style.
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. In many cases, you can right-click in a paragraph and choose Adjust List Indents from the shortcut menu, which opens the Adjust List Indents dialog (Figure 3). You may want to make your numbering flush left. If so, as shown in the dialog, you will need to set "Number position" to 0" and "Text indent" to something more than 0.25"; it may be that as little as 0.3" will be enough to solve the problem.
Unfortunately, the Adjust List Indents command is not on the shortcut menu when the insertion point is in a heading style. If this is a throwaway document, it may be safe to make the change in the paragraph formatting instead, but be sure this change is made to the heading style itself and not applied to paragraphs as direct formatting. There are two ways to accomplish this: (1) make the change by dragging the indent marker on the ruler, then right-click the heading style in the Styles gallery or window and choose "Update Heading 1 to Match Selection," or (2) right-click the style and choose Modify..., then, in the Modify Style dialog, choose Format | Paragraph and define a different hanging indent.
Another approach (which I am grateful to fellow Word MVP Stefan Blom for suggesting) is to force Word to display the Adjust List Indents command by assigning a keyboard shortcut to it. Although the command is not available for adding to the QAT, it is listed under All Commands in the Customize Keyboard dialog.
If this is an important document that needs to be very stable, or if numbering will be applied to more than one heading level, it is preferable to use a Multilevel List in order to associate the list formatting with the style(s). To do this, first remove any simple numbering from the style. Then apply numbering as follows:
Even when you have corrected the alignment problem in the headings themselves, the problem may 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. In Word 2007, this space is generally adequate even for double-digit numbers at unreasonably large font sizes, so you may not encounter the problem illustrated in Figure 4.
If you do, however, you will have to correct the setting. On the ruler, drag the tab stop following the numbers to a new position until the TOC is straightened out.
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 Paragraph dialog (right-click in any TOC entry and choose Paragraph). 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 this reason, it is usually easier to use the Paragraph dialog to change the right indent. 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.
You can create a right-aligned number format using the Define New Number Format command in the Home | Paragraph | Numbering gallery. One of the few choices you actually have in the Define New Number Format dialog is Left, Center, or Right alignment for the numbering (Figure 5).
In a multilevel list, however, you have complete control over your number formatting. Return to the Define New Multilevel List 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 "Number alignment," “Aligned at,” and “Text 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 (the default settings for heading numbering in Word 2007 are 0.2" for "Aligned at" and 0.3" for "Text indent at").
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 10). 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 11.
This article copyright © 2007, 2008, 2011, 2014 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.