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How to create manually numbered lists in MS Word without using the Autoformat As You Type feature

Updated on October 18, 2011

For me, one of the most irritating features of MS Word is its tendency to "second guess" the user.  It all began with that annoying paperclip.  "You look like you're trying to write a letter.  Would you like some help?"  "No thanks, I'm perfectly capable of writing my own letters.  Now &?*! off!"  If it were just the paperclip - or its later, more cuddly incarnations such as the little yellow dog - then it wouldn't be so bad.  After all, you've only got to click the "x" button and pouf! It's gone.   But Word also has a whole range of autocorrect/autoformat as you type features; some of them are useful, but some of them are quite frankly a pain in the fundament. 

Who'd have thought a simple piece of office stationery could be so annoying?
Who'd have thought a simple piece of office stationery could be so annoying?

For example, suppose you want to create a numbered list of items. You type the number 1, then a tab, then the first item in your list. As soon as you hit the Enter button, up pops a number "2", ready for you to add the second item in your list, as in this example below:

  1. Hello, this is the first item in my list
  2. This is the second item

So far so good, but problems can arise when you want to go back and do some editing - say, when you want to add a blank line between the first and second items. Lo and behold, the blank line becomes number 2 on the list!

  1. Hello, this is the first item on my list

  2. This is the second item

[EDIT: thanks to a fellow hubber (see Comments section below), I now realise that you can prevent Word from automatically numbering the blank line.]  Long ago, I decided that I preferred to switch off the AutoFormat As You Type option for numbered lists, and do things my way. 

How to switch off automatic numbering of lists in Word

The basic procedure for doing this is the same for all versions of Word from 97 to 2003:

  • Click on the Tools menu, and click AutoCorrect (or AutoCorrect Options in Word 2003)
  • Then click on the AutoFormat As You Type tab. 
  • In the Apply As You Type section, untick the Automatic Numbered Lists box, and click OK.

Creating your manually numbered list

Now you're all set to start creating a manually numbered list. Probably the easiest way is just to input the list without worrying about formatting to begin with - just remember to use the tab key rather than the space bar immediately after you type each number. (Why? Because using the tab key will allow you to create hanging indents, whereas the space bar won't let you do this.) So at first, your list will look like this:

The next thing is to create the hanging indents. You can either do this all in one go (by highlighting the whole list and going from there), or one item at a time. The advantage of the latter method is that you don't need to highlight your text - you only need your cursor to be somewhere on the paragraph in question.

When it comes to creating your indents, most people will tell you to click Format, Paragraph and then change the "Special" option to "Hanging". This is a bit long-winded, so it's really worth remembering the keyboard shortcut for creating a hanging indent, which is


In other words, you press and hold down the Control button, and hit the letter "T" on your keyboard once. Then just put your cursor on the next item in the list, and do CTRL-T again, so you end up with the following:

If you've got any more items in your list after that, just rinse and repeat.  Seemples!

© Empress Felicity March 2011


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    • EmpressFelicity profile image

      EmpressFelicity 6 years ago from Kent, England, UK

      I didn't know that bit about holding down the Shift key - wow, you learn something every day!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 6 years ago from USA

      I agree that sometimes the auto format feature in Word is frustrating as it doesn't always know what you intend to do! It's useful to know how to turn this feature off.

      However, in your example of the automatic numbering feature, it's simple to add a blank line by holding the shift button down when you strike the return key. When you release the shift button and hit return again, you'll get the next number.

      I didn't know about the shortcut for a hanging indent -- thanks for that useful tip!