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Technology Tips

Configure the Tab Key to Apply Multi-Level Paragraph Numbering in Word 2003

Prior to Word 2003, you could use the [Tab] key within a numbered list to “demote” items to the next level of numbering and use the [Backspace] or [Shift]+[Tab] to “promote” a paragraph to the next higher level. This feature was turned off in Word 2003 most likely to encourage the use of styles to apply your numbering format, of which I am a proponent.

However, if you want the [Tab] and [Backspace] demote/promote functionality feature turn back on, go to Tools > Autocorrect Options and make sure “Set left- and first-indent with tab and backspace” is checked.

For more information about using styles when numbering paragraphs, see Microsystem’s The Seven Laws of Word’s Outline Numbering: What to do — and not do — when using Word’s outline numbering linked to styles.

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2 thoughts on “Configure the Tab Key to Apply Multi-Level Paragraph Numbering in Word 2003

  1. I don’t know who you are or where you are . . . but I love you and want to buy you beer. I am an experienced user of word processors (I still recall the keyboard shortcuts for Word Perfect 5.1 DOS . . . fondly). I am a heavy user of MS Word 2003, largely because my firm was talked (fooled) into switching over from Word Perfect a few years ago by some marketing fiend whom I have not yet been able to hunt down.

    Your tip about restoring tab and shift-tab functionality for multi-leveled lists has solved a significant problem for me. I am drafting a legal pleadings, a heavily organized document that depends on structural format, in part, to organize and present content. MS’s approach to paragraph numbering cannot possibly have been implemented by anyone who actually EVER used paragraph numbering. MS Word’s tendency to change its own settings similarly cannot be readily explained. I have no idea why TAB and Shift-TAB ceased working to increase or decrease (promote or demote) paragraphs numbers . . . but you were the first (and only) online commentator to provide me with an easy way to fix the problem.


    • Hi Bill,

      Glad to know this post was helpful to you! I posted the information in response to an attorney asking me the question so I’m not surprised you, too, are from the legal industry. I worked in the legal industry for 5+ years. Great to know you!

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