Numbered Lists — Part I Outlines

When I wrote the InDesign Help topic on creating multi-level lists, I wasn’t able to go into the detail that I wanted to. Sure, a person can use the steps to figure out how to create multi-level lists, but without concrete examples, it’s not exactly easy. So I’m going to walk through the steps of different multi-level numbered lists. First, I’ll show how to create a simple outline in InDesign:


To create an outline, you need to define a list and then create a set of paragraph styles that reference that list.Outline_Advanced_Styles.jpg

Step 1 – Define a list.

To do this, choose Type > Bulleted & Numbered Lists > Define Lists. Click New, and type the name of the list. If you want numbering to restart when in different stories or documents, deselect one of both options, and click OK. When you define the paragraph styles, you’ll reference this list.Outline_DefineList.jpg

Step 2 – Create the first paragraph style.

* In the Paragraph Styles panel, click the Create New Style icon, type the name of the style (such as “Outline Level 1”), and then click the Bullets & Numbering section.

* Choose the list you defined from the List menu, and specify level 1.

* Choose the Numbering Style Format. Traditionally, the first level of outlining uses I. II. III.

* To make sure all the lines in each paragraph are indented, specify a Left Indent amount (such as 3p0) and then specify a negative First Line Indent value (-3p0).


Step 3 – Begin typing the outline.

Type outline text. Make sure that at least one of the paragraphs wraps to the next line so that you can see if the hanging indents work properly. While creating each paragraph style, place the insertion point in the appropriate level and turn on the Preview option.Step 4 – Create the other paragraph styles.Follow the same process to create additional paragraph styles. For each style, specify the level number, the format (such as A. B. C. for the second level and 1. 2. 3. for the third level), and increase the Left Indent value.Outline_Level4A.jpg

Step 5 – Apply the paragraph styles to text.

Tip: If you want more control over restarting the outline, such as starting a new outline within the same story, create a new outline style that’s identical to the Level 1 style with one exception. For Mode, chose Start At, and then specify 1. Name this style something like “Level 1 Restart.”That’s all there is to it. In Part II, I show how to create multi-level numbering such as 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.2.1, and so on.

17 Responses to Numbered Lists — Part I Outlines

  1. Chad Chelius says:

    Great tutorial Bob! You’re right, this would be helpful to have in Adobe’s LiveDocs. I get questions about this all the time.

  2. Steve Mayo says:

    I think this outline feature is great, but believe if I want to build a bulleted list with levels, I have to do this manually. Is this true?

  3. Jamie Radel says:

    These are great tips. However, I can’t find any information on why my outline styles stop working. I have them set up in the document properly and when I first apply them they work, but after a couple of hours working in the document, they stop working. Any suggestions?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      That’s odd. Try deleting preferences and see if that helps. Also, try the same approach in a new document to make sure the problem isn’t a corrupt document. (If it is a corrupt document, export as IDML and open/save it again.) If the problem persists, post a question on the user forum.

  4. Skybird says:

    BTW, regarding the example, I worked for Hormel for years, “potted” meat product is basically a midwest term derived from “paté”

  5. Austin says:

    SO let me get this straight. You have to do Allllll this, just so you can set each line? It won’t automatically tab to a new level, like word. (sad)

  6. Ernesto says:

    Hello Bob Bringhurst (and everyone)
    I’ve been wondering how to create a numbered list using that doesn’t reset or doesn’t continue from the last list in my document. The list I have to do are like this:

    a) text text text
    b) text text text
    c) text text text

    Then text without the list, and then again:

    a) text text text
    b) text text text
    c) text text text

    But if I use numbered list, it tends to put all the list like:

    a) text text text
    a) text text text
    a) text text text

    Then text without the list, and then again:

    a) text text text
    a) text text text
    a) text text text

    Or like this:

    a) text text text
    b) text text text
    c) text text text

    Then text without the list, and then again:

    d) text text text
    e) text text text
    f) text text text

    Is there any way to create a paragraph style with numbered list that allow me to create this list on InDesign CS4? Thank you very much in advance

    • goochisan says:

      I’m also interested in finding a(n elegant) solution to Ernesto’s question… The only way I’ve found to accomplish what Ernesto wants is to create two separate styles, as Bob suggested in the Tip after Step 5; but isn’t it peculiar that InDesign can’t seem to do this without this extraneous workaround?

  7. Victoria says:

    You click on the first paragraph and then go to Type > Bulleted & Numbered Lists > Restart Numbering.

  8. Erica says:

    Even after defining a list under Type > Bullets & Numbering > Define Lists the list option within Paragraph Style Options is grayed out and I am unable to select a defined list. Any idea why this is happening? I have gone back to verify my “outline” list has been defined and it’s still there, but not under my paragraph style options.


  9. Vinoth Kumar says:

    how to skew bullet numbered list? do not apply italic

  10. Meg says:

    excellent!!! thank you so much!!!

  11. Tim Hardesty says:

    Paragraph styles for Numbered Lists is not working for me. I want to have a numbered list paragraph style, but whenever I make a numbered list into a paragraph style it changes each item of the list to 1. Either I am doing somehthing wrong, or there is a bug in Indesgin(This happens in InDesign CS 5.5 – CC.
    I think you should be able to replicate this problem by doing the following:
    Start with a fresh new document.
    Make a list into a numbered list using the Type->Numbered List->Apply Numbers Function.
    It should now show the list correctly numbered.
    Now highlight the list and make it into a “New Paragraph Style”. In preview or after you hit OK it will show all of your numbers will be tranformed into 1.
    Can anyone tell me what I am doing wrong, or confirm this bug?
    Thank you