Numbered Lists — Part II Multi-Level Lists

In Part I, I covered how to create a traditional outline list. Now I’m going to walk through the steps of creating a multi-level list frequently used in academic papers, user guides, and military documents.



As is the case with an outline list, you need to define a list and then create a set of paragraph styles that reference that list. Defining lists allows you to have multiple lists in a document that don’t interfere with each other. For example, you could create multi-level headings, an outline, and separate lists of tables and figures within the same document, all of which use a separate numbering sequence.


In this example, we need to create three different paragraph styles that all refer to the numbered list we define.

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.Multi_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 “Level 1”).

* Define the heading attributes, such as the font style. For example, I made the headings bold in the Basic Character Formats section, and I added a Space After value in the Indents and Spacing section.

* Click the Bullets & Numbering section, choose the list you defined from the List menu, and specify level 1.

* Specify the Number format. In my headings, I prefer using an em space instead of a tab, so I deleted ^t and chose Insert Special Character > Em Space from the flyout menu to the right of the Number field. ^#.^m means the current level number (1) will be followed by a period, which will be followed by an em space.


Step 3 – Create the second-level heading style

Follow the same steps to create a second paragraph style. To simplify matters base this style on the first style you created, and then make any changes.

* In the Bullets & Numbering section, make sure the list you defined is selected, and choose Level 2.

* Place the insertion point at the beginning of the Number field, choose Insert Number Placeholder > Level 1 (or just type ^1), and then insert a period. ^1.^#.^m means the first level (1) will be followed by a period, which will be followed by the current level number (2), which will be followed by a period, which will be followed by an em space.


* Modify the Number style to suit your needs. For example, if you wanted to use a hyphen instead of a period (1-1, 1-2, 1-3…), the Number field would look like this^1-^#.^mStep 4 – Create additional heading stylesFollow the same process to define the rest of the paragraph styles. For the third style, insert both ^1 and ^2 in the Number field.


Step 5 – Apply the heading styles to text

Apply the heading style to headings, and make any adjustments. For example, you may want to specify a different Next Style (such as Body) for the heading styles so that when you press Enter after typing the heading, the Body style is automatically applied to the next paragraph.Tip: In Part I, I mentioned that if you need to restart numbering within the same story, you should create a paragraph style identical to the Level 1 style, only with the numbering starting at 1. Depending on your layout, there may be a better way. If another style will always appear between the lists (such as “step heading”), specify that style as the level 1 style, and choose None for Numbering Style Format.Next, I’ll write about creating lists of figures or tables.

23 Responses to Numbered Lists — Part II Multi-Level Lists

  1. zombie says:


  2. sabina says:

    HiI can get my numbered list to continue across stories in the same document but I cannot make them continue across documents in my book.Any ideas?Thanks

  3. Amanda says:

    What do you do when you want your first level style to be 01, 02, 03, etc. But then you want the 2nd and 3rd levels to be 2.1, 2.2, 2.1.1, 2.1.2 it keeps picking up the 0 from the first level.Sections will go beyond 10 as well and I don’t want to insert a 0 in before the level as it will read as 010, 011, 012, etc

  4. therimalaya says:

    What if i don’t want to number the level 1 list but want to restart the numbering of level 2 after each level 1 which i’ve not assigned any number.???

  5. Clare says:

    This is very useful but in my report I need level 1 to be at the top of several consecutive pages while level 2 and 3 etc continue to change. The problem is that level 1 wants to change on each page but I want it to be the same title for say 2 or 3 pages in a row.

  6. orielwen says:

    What about if I want a list that goes 1a, 1b, 1c, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b? (So two levels, but all at the second level.) How do I tell InDesign to move on from one number to the next?

  7. Douglas says:

    Even when I select “Restart Numbers at this level after:”
    It doesn’t restart. What am I missing?

  8. Susan Sand says:

    Bob, THANK YOU!! I’ve been trying to teach myself this topic without success…then I found a video that wasn’t helpful…but you are one heck of a teacher! I’m so thrilled to finally understand this and I’m going to save oodles of time.

    While I’m commenting, let me ask something…I have the pdf of the InDesgin Help on my computer and I adore the formatting. The whitespace and fonts are perfect and so eacy on the eye. Would it be possible for someone to please send me exactly what’s in that template so I don’t have to figure it out myself? Please pass on my compliments to the designer!

  9. Claudia says:

    Thank you so much, I have been playing around with the numbered lists and got more and more frustrated, thank you!

  10. jonsachs says:

    Is it possible to create multi-level bullet lists, rather than multi-level numbered lists?

  11. michelle says:

    but with mine it is only working with chapter 1. starting with chapter 2 it continues with 1.x or with 4.x … very strange …. can you explain it? thanks a lot for your kind support.

  12. Abbas says:

    thanks very much

  13. Ana says:

    I want to do a reversed list (10, 9, 8, 7 …) how can I do it with this system?

  14. David Lee says:


    Great article and really well explained. But I need to create multiple bullet lists, where one set of bullets are labelled 1 -6 and then the next one needs to start from 1 again.

    Do i have to keep creating paragraph style for bullets each time?

  15. shelagh says:

    Hi, thanks for the guidelines above. First 2 levels work beautifully, until a paragraph is inserted in between for the third level.
    so for eg:
    Some paragraph text, then it does this…
    really hope you have a solution.

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      Create a defined list. A defined list can be interrupted by other paragraphs and lists.

  16. Jason Whatley says:

    I know this is an old post, but you just saved me a ton of time putting an appendix together for a device menu hierarchy. Great explanation w/ graphics!