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Microsoft Word for Dissertations

Describes many of the special features of Microsoft Word you can use to make formatting your dissertation easier. While it's focused on dissertations, this information is useful for any long document.

Page Contents

Microsoft Word can automatically keep track of your chapter, section, and sub-section numbering for you. Using these numbering schemes will also allow your figure/diagram/table/equations to be automatically numbered, as well.

In this part of the Guide, you'll learn:

  • How to set Word to automatically number your Chapters and Sections
  • How to customize your number style (Section 1.1 vs. Section 1.a or Section 01.01)
  • How to automatically number Appendices

Automatic Chapter and Subsection Numbering

Important Note: Not everyone needs this type of numbering; if your discipline doesn’t require it, skip this section!

Word can automatically number sections (Chapter 1, 1.1, 1.2, etc.) of your document and include the chapter number in the captions (Figure 1.2, 2.2, etc.).

  1. Make sure each of your chapter titles are in the Heading 1 style, and then click on one of your chapter titles.
  2. If you just need the chapter number included in captions, on the On the Home Ribbon, in the Paragraph Group, click the Multilevel List icon and select the one with the words Chapter 1 in it from the List Library section. 

    If you need subsections numbered (for example, 2.1, 2.2, 2.12, etc.) as well, then choose the list the 1 Heading 1; 1.1 Heading 2, etc. option (right side, middle row). Note that doing this once sets the formatting for all heading levels.
  3. Click OK when you are finished.
  4. If you typed in the text “Chapter #”, and now it is duplicating your efforts, delete the text you typed and leave the automatically generated chapter number.
  5. To follow the automatically generated chapter number with the title of your chapter on a new line, click just before the text of your title, hold down the Shift key on the keyboard, and then press the Enter key.

Note: If you have any problems with word automatically adding outline numbering to parts of your front matter, simply delete it.  Your chapter numbers will reset to show the correct number of chapters.

Removing the section numbering from our template

Our template is set to include numbering for sections and sub-sections within chapters. But some Style Guides do not call for such numbering, so you will want to remove it. This is easily done by changing the numbering scheme from our custom list to the "Chapter" multi-level list:

  1. Place your cursor in the title of your Chapter 1 (which is styled with the Heading 1 style)
  2. In the Home tab, click to open the Multi-level List tool , and select the numbering scheme that uses "Chapter 1" for Heading 1, and NO numbers for Headings 2 & 3.


In some cases, you may find that Word has added "Chapter X" before some of your Heading 1 sections that aren't chapters (like Acknowledgements or Bibliography). All you need to do is go to each of those sections, place your cursor after "Chapter X", and press Backspace to delete it.

Customizing Your Numbers

If you want to change anything about the numbers – for example, you are using the 1.1, 1.2, etc... style but would like it to be 1.a, 1.b, etc..., or you want to change Arabic numbers (Chapter 1) to Ordinal (Chapter One), or you want to put a colon or a tab after the numbers, you can.

Place your cursor into one of your chapter headings, then go to the Home Ribbon, and in the Paragraph Group click the Multilevel List icon (see screen shot in the section above) and select Define New Multilevel List….  In the window that appears, in Word for Windows, click the More>> button to see the entire dialog box, or on Mac, click the downward facing arrow  to see all the settings we'll be working with. This window looks a little different between Mac and Windows (the screenshot below is from Windows) but the following directions work for both, even if you have to look around a little bit to find each element.

  • Use the Number style for this level: pulldown menu (A) to choose from various numeral or letter styles.
  • Under "Click level to modify" (B), in this screenshot we've selected level 1 (the Chapter level) and added the word “Chapter” and a space afterwards to the "Enter formatting for number" (C) field. 
  • Then you can modify the other levels (Level 2 would be for a section in a chapter and Level 3 for a sub-section, and of course Level 4 for a sub-sub-section). You can, for example, change the period in between the level and sub-level numbers to a dash or anything you want by making the change in the "Enter formatting for number" (C) field.
  • In the "Follow number with:" field (D), you may also see that a tab follows the number. We suggest you change that to a space.