It's 2016 And Microsoft STILL Can't Do Bulleted Lists in Word Correctly

I am just staggered.  I am trying to create and edit a simple 2 level  (e.g. 1-a-b-c-2-3-4-a-b-5) etc. list in Microsoft Word and the bulleting STILL does not work right after, what, at least 10 major versions of the software?  Microsoft spends like a million man-hours screwing with the user interface so I constantly have to waste time hunting around looking for options like footer editing but they can't fix bullet points.  This is just unbelievably stupid.  No wonder productivity growth has flattened in this country -- MS Office is single-handedly trying to reduce it for everyone.

If you have worked with a law firm lately, you may well have found one still using Word Perfect.  Don't remember Word Perfect?  Beyond their being the king of the cntl-right shift-j style of commands, the one thing they could do even 20 years ago was manage a hierarchical list without making a total mess.


  1. Rick C:

    Can't reproduce in Word 2010. Start typing: "1. this is a list", hit enter, it shows "2." on the next line. Hit tab, the 2 indents and becomes an a. Keep hitting enter and typing in stuff, and I use tab and shift-tab to indent and outdent on the fly and it kept the numbering perfect for me.

    I didn't know ahead of time that would work, either--I just tried a few key combinations until it worked. Took about 2 minutes to figure it out. out.

  2. ColoComment:

    The old WordPerfect "Reveal Codes" has an analog in MS Word. It's the "Paragraph" mark that you can "click" on. You can find it on the "Home" tab.

    When you click it on, you can then "see" the hard [Enter] and soft [Shift-Enter] returns, the "Next Page" [Control-Enter] returns, the auto-outline steps, etc. Most people don't use it, but I can't type a page without seeing the codes.

    You also need to bear in mind that you can "code in" certain formatting settings into the "Paragraph" mark so that it will be the default. For example, your soft returns [Shift-Enter] will simply drop you down one line. But you can code into the hard return [Enter] that you want to skip a line between paragraphs, use a different font/size, double space, and it will do all that.

    One of the formatting commands that I use most often in Word is the "Format Painter". It's the little paint brush thingy. If you put your cursor (or highlight a line or paragraph by clicking in the margin) on, or highlight, the text format that you want to duplicate elsewhere, click the format painter, then click in or highlight where you want that format duplicated, it will do so. For example, you have an outline started in your presentation. Then you have some plain text. Then you want to start a new outline segment. You can click in the left margin to highlight the last sub-para. of the previous outline, click format painter, then move to your new position and click. You have copied the format command to your new position.

    I was lucky enough that a former employer had a great training department & I learned to use Word as Word, not as a poor man's WordPerfect. Word offers a great deal of flexibility, and so many shortcuts, but few users optimize their use of it.

  3. Matthew Slyfield:

    Open Office.

  4. Matthew Slyfield:

    When you start a list in Word, you should get an additional tool bar with buttons to increase/decrease the level of the current item. Hitting tab while in a numbered list will increase the level (go from 2->a) to follow your example. Unfortunately there is no way to go back a level without using the tool bar that I know of.

  5. Maximum Liberty:

    Here is how I managed it. First, open Next, turn off all the stuff that tries to guess the formatting you want. Next, create Styles that capture all of the formatting I am likely to need in the kinds of documents I write. Finally, associate many of those styles of a Multi-Level List.

  6. Noumenon72:


  7. Noumenon72:

    The feature gets into trouble when you start hitting backspace, adding paragraphs (you need shift-Enter for that), and pasting stuff in. I do a lot of putting my cursor at the start of a line and deleting until it is on the line above so I can hit Enter and start a new bullet point. Occasionally a list will restart at 1 when there's a gap in it, or worse, a new list will become a continuation of a list above. It's not that bad, I use it with no qualms, but you're not a moron if you have trouble sometimes.

  8. Noumenon72:

    I can see why you need to see page breaks, since they don't make my document look different in any way when I put one in. Weird.

  9. Peter Bickford:

    The actual functionality works fine, with one massive caveat: backspace go out a level in the indent structure.

    Instead, use greater indent/lesser indent and it works entirely as expected. The problem is that the backspace is a "delete" -- not a signal to move to the higher-order level of indent if you're indented several levels.

  10. ColoComment:

    Right click and open a window that will let you select "continue" the list, or "start at 'x' number/letter"

  11. ColoComment:

    When you hit [Enter] at the end of a paragraph, or line, or bullet point, it will format the next paragraph, line or bullet point exactly the same as the one you just finished. It remembers what you were doing & duplicates it for font, margins, size, bullets, etc.
    If you display the formatting codes while in your document, a ¶ [Paragraph mark] indicates a "hard return," which you use at the end of a paragraph. All of the formatting codes are found in, and carried by, that ¶.
    A "soft return" is indicated by a right-angle arrow kind of symbol, and is used to end a line or phrase without starting an entirely new paragraph.

    Really, if you turn on the formatting codes or marks, all is revealed to you.

  12. ColoComment:

    What is really hard is working on a Word document that has been converted from pdf. You want weird? Acrobat inserts all kinds of weird stuff. it puts headers and footers in frames that are invisible unless you reveal the formatting codes. It inserts hard "page" breaks at the bottom of every page. You can sometimes see big blank areas in a Word doc that is actually a blank frame that Acrobat inserts -- why? Who knows? And every smidge and squiggle becomes ... something, wanted or not.
    It's a wordy-nerdy adventure for someone who likes that kind of thing (which I do.)

  13. jon49:

    Don't do much writing now days but when I do it's with markdown or pandoc.

  14. Sam P:

    You know that Acrobat is intended to be a printed page replacement, not an editable text document. All those features are the result of some application "printing" to Acrobat and creating all those things in order to place text and such where the application wants it on the "page".

  15. Noumenon72:

    It works!

  16. Bram:

    Yep. Just as good and free.

  17. OG63:

    Yep. Showing the formatting marks from Options > Display can save a world of confusing.

  18. Matthew Slyfield:

    Wadda ya mean just as good? It's much better. No up vote for you.

  19. ColoComment:


  20. ColoComment:

    Yes. I do know that.
    I work with Acrobat, including its Tools and Comment functions, on an almost daily basis & am reasonably familiar with it.
    However, when the other party to the opening discussion for a contractual arrangement sends you a pdf copy of its "standard agreement", and claims that's the only version it has (and it's deficient w/r/t contractual protections for your side), then what you are left with in order to revise that document to make it acceptable to you is to save the pdf as a Word document, clean it up, and do your revisions and redlining from that base document.

  21. Fred_Z:

    I still use WordPerfect, and sometimes LibreOffice, which is free.

  22. SethRoentgen:

    I still use WordPerfect and it works just fine. Reveal Codes enables editing of the format.

    When I worked at the CSIRO, I was pressured to convert to the in-house standard MS Word. I demonstrated to my Boss (who had the benefit of a typist) that MS Word could not deal with MS Objects. A true gentleman, he withdrew.

  23. John O.:

    LibreOffice because its the fork that was set up to get around the mess that Oracle created after buying Sun.

  24. Matthew Slyfield:

    What mess? Open Office is still available free as open source.

  25. John O.:

    When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in 2010, Oracle began shutting down many of the open source projects that Sun maintained, particularly OpenSolaris and heavily restricting open source Java implementations when they sued Google. There was great fear that Oracle would do the same to OpenOffice which at the time was barely maintained by Sun as they hadn't fulfilled their desire to have the project shifted to a neutral foundation to maintain the project as they proposed in 2001. So the Go-oo project run by Novell that maintained a version of OpenOffice outside of Sun, and the official OpenOffice project, spear headed the effort to finally resolve the problems that could befall OpenOffice and in the fall of 2010 set up The Document Foundation which took the Go-oo's updated code and immediately incorporated it into the LibreOffice project. At the time I had already been using Go-oo as it was way more robust version of OpenOffice and the chaotic period around the Oracle acquisition, I opted to immediately jump onto LibreOffice as it hadn't been decided until 2011 that Oracle would shift development of OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation. This was 10 months after The Document Foundation invited Oracle to officially participate but the rejection of the offer was taken as a deliberate snub and the attitude I had at the time is that its better to go with something that's interested in staying and not with something that might not be there in a couple years.

  26. Matthew Slyfield:

    Ah. I didn't start using OO until after all of that, and I haven't had any issues with OO functionality.

  27. jdgalt:

    I quit updating Word and Excel in 2008, rather than go along with M$' replacement of all their menus with that stupid "ribbon" structure. OO doesn't exactly match either, but it's closer to the older versions of Word and Excel. If that changes, I won't upgrade.

  28. jdgalt:

    Adobe didn't invent and doesn't own the PDF format. Open a PDF in Gnu Ghostview, and you'll find that the contents of the PDF are actually in PostScript code.