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How to fix multilevel list in Word


Sometimes, it could be a gruesome experience fixing multilevel lists in your Word document, more so if document contains hundreds of pages with multiple heading levels. In this article, I am going to discuss a few tricks to quickly get rid of the mess and streamline your document as quickly as possible.

I am assuming that you already know how to create multilevel list in Word (if not, here is how:

In your current document where the list numbering has gone wrong:

1.   Select a first heading level in your document and then from the Word Ribbon menu, under the tab Home, within the group Paragraph, click the Multilevel List icon. A drop-down list appears. See below image.

2.   From the drop-down list, click the option Define New Multilevel List. Define New Multilevel List dialog box appears.


3.   From the dialog box, click the button More (available on the left bottom corner). The dialog box expands with additional fields. At this juncture, understand that the main reasons for the numbered headings going out of order is due to the missing links between heading levels you have applied in your document and corresponding default heading styles of Word. We will restore the links using the Define New Multilevel List dialog box.

4.   In the dialog box, you can see the heading levels as 1, 2, 3,….9 on extreme left under the label “Click level to modify”. Assume that these are the heading levels in your document. Click heading “1” and subsequently from the drop-down list Link level to style , select Heading 1 style.


Similarly, restore connections for the rest of the heading levels (heading 2, 3, …etc.) in your document. Click OK.   Once your are done with establishing connections between the heading levels in the document to  default heading levels, apply the same to all heading 1s,  all heading 2s, etc. in the document. Keeping your heading 1 selected in the document, click Alt+O+S. The Styles pane appears on the right.

1.   Locate the heading level 1 in the Styles pane.Place mouse cursor over it. The heading level gets selected.

2.   Click the down arrow button on the extreme right. A drop-down list appears. See below image.

3.   From the drop-down list, click option Update Heading 1 to Match Selection. As a result, all the Heading 1s in your document will be linked to default heading 1. Do the same for the rest of the levels (heading 2, heading 3, etc.) in your document.






  1. Scott says:

    Word 2010: I really only want to correct a couple of levels in an EXISTING numbered list. It seems like there is no way to simply edit an existing list without re-creating it each time. Highly frustrating.

  2. VaidySNathan says:

    God bless you, you just saved the day for my thesis!

  3. ishtiaq says:

    I am writing my PhD thesis. Your posts really help me. Thank you very much and God bless.

  4. I’ve got this working great and all my numbered headings and my ‘normal’ heading are showing correctly with

    1. First level
    1.1. Second Level
    1.2. Second Level
    1.1.1 Third Level
    2. First Level
    .. and so on.

    So I’ve gone and saved this document as a template. However, when I reload it, all my lists have reverted to

    I. First level
    I.a. Second Level
    I.b. Second Level
    I.a.i Third Level
    II. First Level

    I look in my list styles and it shows this (which is correct)
    1.0 ———
    1.1 ———
    1.1.1 —-

    It is also there in the list library, but I click on it to change it to the desired list and it doesn’t do anything. I’ve tried “define new list style” and making sure that “all new documents created have this style”. I’ve made sure that all headings are “all new documents created have this style”, but nothing seems to be working.

    Maybe can you help? Thank you!

  5. Arun says:

    This post shows real light to this recurring embarrassing problem.

    As you are doing so much work to help us, would you mind providing a blank document with the style applied. That way, anyone can download your blank document, rename and use it. It will save the painful steps.

  6. Sheila says:

    Hi WordKnowHow,

    Thank you for this. I wonder if you could also help me with my specific problem. I already have a multi-level list in my document. I did not prepare it, so I do not want to do too many changes to it. There are 2 sections in the document that have their own table of contents. Section 1 has 1-35 numbered multi-level headings, while Section 2 has 1-28 numbered multi-level headings.

    My problem is that the headings in Section 2 start with 36. I want to retain the form, margin, indentations, etc, etc, except that I want the number to change from 36 to 1, and so on. How do I do this without manually making the settings for each level (since I really do not know what the settings are)? I really hope you can help me. Thank you.

  7. Jay Reynolds says:

    You will have no idea how much this has helped me. My current team developed a template in Word to create some training materials and there has been a style for our steps that has plagued me for two years. TWO YEARS. Every time I’d have to restart the numbering sequence of our steps, the alignment would go all wonky no matter what settings I configured for my style, so there would be a lot of manual readjustment…but no longer.

    I did not know that my style (which was a numbering format) was linked to/defined by the multilevel list. This simple step has fixed it all. The style is not ‘broken’ any more – every time I need to restart the numbering at 1, the indents/alignment stays the way it should.

    Freaking Wow – and THANK YOU!!!!

  8. HR Techie says:

    Great tutorial. I have been fighting this for days. I have set my multi-level list. However, level 4, 5 and 6 will NOT stay linked. I am beginning the multi level list from the first instance of level 1, following the steps. At first it works, then when you go deeper into the document, level 4, 5 and 6 becomes unlinked. When you go back into the multi-level list, I link them again, and it still happens…I need a solution to this. I have been searching for days.

    Thank you

  9. How can I move an item to a lower level, if the list is inside a table? When I press tab, the cursor simply move to another box.

  10. Duc Trung says:

    How can I move an item to a lower number, if the list is in a table? When I press Tab, the cursor simply move to another box

  11. Duc Trung says:

    How can I move an item to a lower number, if the list is inside a table? When I press Tab, the cursor simply move to another box

  12. Cindy Walker says:

    Do you know how to get a list not to show up in the navigation pane?

  13. Ron Carlson says:

    Hi Anupam –

    Thank you for the great tutorial. The problem I am having is a bit different. My multilevel header structure (1. 1.1 1.1.1 etc.) is working great. In addition to the headers I also use multilevel lists (A. 1. a. 1). etc.)

    I use the multilevel lists anywhere in the document under any Header level.

    How do I configure the multilevel list to restart at A when I cross any Header level?

  14. Sarah Cooper says:

    Thanks, these instructions are great.

    I am trying to number both headings and paragraphs in a document. I tried legal numbering but I had to apply a heading style to the paragraph and that doesn’t work because the paragraph could be at any level, eg:

    1. Heading level 1
    1.1 Paragraph text
    1.2 Heading level 2
    1.2.1 Paragraph text
    1.3 Heading level 2
    1.3.1 Heading level 3 Paragraph text

    and so on.

    Unfortunately I need all 9 heading levels to be automatically numbered but I want to number each individual paragraph to fall under the heading with the next sequential number too. Is there any way to do this apart from manually and then that stuffs up the auto numbered headings?

    • Lea S. says:

      Since you can’t link two styles to the same list level, and your basic paragraph style can occur on any level, it sounds like you would have to create your basic paragraph style as a “character” type style. Character styles can be applied over other styles, usually for emphasis within a paragraph, and that should allow you to keep the numbering of the list level at the same time as the other attributes of your basic paragraph.

  15. Sarah Cooper says:

    Thanks. Do you know how to have numbered headings up to Heading level 9 plus numbered paragraphs that could be numbered from directly under a heading level 1 down to a heading level 9? For example:

    1. Heading level 1
    1.1 Paragraph text.
    1.2 Heading level 2
    1.2.1 Paragraph text

    and so on?

    I can’t make the paragraph a heading level as it will be pulled into the TOC and will need different styles from the headings. I thought of legal numbering but this doesn’t seem to work either.

  16. kPev says:

    Heys 😉

    Great post, really helpful. Wish I’d found it earlier.


    I have levels 1-6 in my document, and I have the following format


    Now what’s happening is that level 4 is just not behaving.
    It’s resetting to only restart list after level 2, not 3.


  17. Misty says:

    Looking for Multi-Level List Guru’s

    I am using a defined list that I have created.

    I want my Level one to be 1.1 where both are changing number fields and I want my level 2 to follow this format.

    What I am trying to achieve is in section 1 I want 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc and then in section 2 I want 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc onwards to section 3, 4, 5.

    I am also linking them to the heading styles.

    Another question is when I modify my headings in the styles like indentations tabs etc the updates are not applying to the defined multi level list that was created. So if I am redefining a level it changes my document back to the multi-level list format.

    If I can’t build the ML List like I want what is a round about way of doing this so I do not have to manually change each section to suit my needs.

    Please help.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Great post – really helpful. Finally, a fix for problems I’ve been working-around for years! Thank you!!

  19. Dark Link says:

    I found your post extremely helpful. It certainly got me on the right track. The thing is: I do want to create a document with multiple list and multiple multilevel list, and so, I created a whole bunch of Styles so that word allows me to create multiple iterations of everything. e.g:

    Headings 1, 2, 3…. These are the defaults
    Level 1, 2, 3, 4…… This one, I created based on the heading it needs to look like.
    Part 1, 2, 3, 4………..Second one I created based on headings

    And so, I can have what I want

  20. Anonymous says:

    I followed these directions now all my 2nd headings are numbered 1.1, what’s the problem. They should be 1.1, 1.2, 1.3……..2.1, 2.2, 2.3……..

    • Anonymous says:

      4.1. Airport Safety 8
      4.2 Volumetric Capacity 8
      2.3 Site Life Estimate 8
      2.4 Soil Availability 8
      4.5 Topography 9
      2.4.1 Climatology 9
      4.6.1 Isohyetal Map and Precipitation 9
      1.1.1 4.6.2 Floodplain 10
      1.1.1 4.6.3 Design Storm 10
      1.1.1 4.6.4 Evaporation 10
      1.1.1 4.6.5 Run-on and Runoff Volume and Pattern 10
      1.1.1 4.6.6 Wind Rose 11
      4.7 Geology 11
      1.1.1 4.7.1 Regional Geology 11
      1.1.1 4.7.2 Local Geology 13
      4.8 Regional Faulting and Seismicity 13
      4.9 Engineering and Chemical Properties of Soil 14
      1.1.1 4.9.1 Stability Analysis 14
      4.10 Hydrogeologic Setting 16
      1.1.1 Regional Hydrogeology 16
      1.1.1 Site Hydrogeology 16
      1.1.1 4.10.3 Groundwater Quality 18
      1.1.1 4.10.4 Groundwater Use 18
      2.4.2 Ancillary and Other Site Facilities 19
      2.5 5.1 Design Standards 20
      2.6 5.2 Design Responsibility 20
      2.7 General Design Parameters 21
      Previous Design 21
      Future Designs 21
      1.1.1 22
      1.1.1 5.3.3 Climatological Factors 22
      1.1.1 5.3.4 Seismic Design 22
      1.1.1 5.3.5 Maximum Height 23
      1.1.1 5.3.6 Minimum Refuse Elevation 23
      1.1.1 5.3.7 Minimum Five-Foot Separation to Groundwater 23
      1.1.1 5.3.8 Service Area 24
      1.1.1 5.3.9 Entrance Features 24
      1.1.1 5.3.10 Use by Transfer Vehicles 24
      1.1.1 5.3.11 Use by General Public (Self-Haul) 24
      2.8 Cover 25
      1.1.1 Cover Materials 25
      1.1.1 Cover Frequency 25
      1.1.1 Intermediate Cover 25
      1.1.1 Alternate Daily Cover 25
      1.1.1 26
      1.1.1 Beneficial Reuse 26
      2.9 Leachate Collection and Recovery System 26
      1.1.1 Existing Leachate Collection System 26
      1.1.1 Future Leachate Collection System 27
      1.1.1 Collection and Removal 28
      1.1.1 Vadose Zone Monitoring Sump 29
      2.10 Drainage 30
      2.11 Construction Sequencing Plans 30
      1.1.1 General 30
      1.1.1 5.7.2 Excavation and Stockpiling 31
      2.1 Operating Criteria 32
      1.1.1 6.1.1 Hours of Operation 32
      1.1.1 6.1.2 Description of Operating Cycle 33
      1.1.1 6.1.3 Disposal Site Records 33
      1.1.1 6.1.4 Site Security and Access 35
      1.1.1 6.1.5 Sanitary Facilities 35
      1.1.1 6.1.6 Potable Water Supply 35
      1.1.1 6.1.7 Communications and Early Warning Systems 35
      1.1.1 6.1.8 Lighting 36
      1.1.1 6.1.9 Safety Equipment 36
      1.1.1 6.1.10 Personnel Requirements and Training 37
      1.1.1 6.1.11 Staffing 38
      1.1.1 6.1.12 Personnel Training 39
      1.1.1 6.1.13 Supervisory Structure 39

      • wordknowhow says:

        Sometimes, it may be needed to set the links more than once in the Multilevel List dialog box….so click the multilevel list icon from Home >> Paragraph >> Multilevel list and then click ‘Define multilevel new list’ from the drop-down list. In the dialog box, repeat the same steps as stated in the blog post.

      • wordknowhow says:

        Please click back the ‘Multilevel List’ icon in the ‘Paragraph’ group of the main menu and then re-link the Level 1 with Heading 1, etc. Then it should work fine. Sometime, Word behaves weirdly!

    • wordknowhow says:

      difficult to tell without seeing the doc…

  21. Anonymous says:

    HI there, great instructions! Would you be also able to give instructions on how to amend multi level lists within a table

    • wordknowhow says:

      Word allows only one multilevel list in the entire document irrespective of the place where you create it (within a table or elsewhere). But you can create references manually by hyperlinking.

  22. rpr says:

    Nice post, but how to copy a multilevel list definition from one document to another? I’d like to avoid defining it all over again.

  23. Great post, thank you very much. This saves a lifetime of hurt!

  24. William says:

    I have a question regarding having a separate list “embedded” within a larger multilevel list.

    We have a template set up with a multi-level list connected to headings to provide numbers headings and subheadings throughout the document. Within the paragraphs under these headings, we often want to place a bulleted or numbered list. However, clicking the “Numbered List” button in the ribbon causes the “normal” text selected to the elevated to a Heading, with document-level numbering and all! It seems to be possible to select the drop-down arrow next to the numbered list button to select a different list style. Is there any way to make one of these alternate, paragraph-level lists the ‘default’?


    • Forrest says:

      I am having this same issue. Any help would be great!

      • wordknowhow says:

        Sorry I missed this! I’m unable to understand you clearly. if you can define a new numbering list, save the same as a template and use as a default numbering style every time you create a new document. You need not select a numbered list from the menu. Your styles would be available in the styles gallery.

  25. Pam says:

    Feeling really stupid but this does not make sense to me. I am not having trouble with levels 1-3 but I cannot get level 4 heading to work correctly. Please help

  26. Anonymous says:

    thanks …u saved my life 🙂

  27. tgillet1 says:

    Tip for those who used this but then had trouble when using more than one multilevel list in a document. Prior to changing an item in the list from one list to another, select None. Then select the list you want, creating a new one if need be. Also watch out for whether you’re applying changes to the Whole List or This Point Forward.

  28. edjee says:

    Is there a way to have the first digit automatically be the Section its in? Like Section 2 2.1.1, Section 3 3.1.1, without making a new style for every section?

  29. Anonymous says:


  30. Jon Doe says:

    Thank you. Clear, concise and accurate.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Thanks a ton, this set me on the right track after much frustrated time-wasting and plenty of less-useful advice online.

  32. Dejan says:

    Simple and clear… and it works.
    Thanks a lot!

  33. Dan says:

    Thanks! That helped A LOT!

  34. Jozto says:

    Sooooo simple! Even after 15 years of using Word I have been missing some of the most important clues… Thank you!

  35. Robert Larson says:

    Oh, thank god for this post. I was seconds away from just throwing the computer out the window. Very frustrating. All is well now.

  36. Brilliant, this makes total sense. Thanks for the tutorial!

  37. Thank you for the clear and detailed instruction. Had been close to despair and found the solution to that mess one can bring up with multi level lists right here.

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