How to Create and Work with Multilevel Lists in Microsoft Word

195133 How to Create and Work with Multilevel Lists in Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word allows you to easily create multilevel lists to organize content in outlines or numbered sequences in your documents. Whether you need a simple bulleted list, multi-tiered numbered headings, or a complex outline with mixed levels of bullets and numbers, Word gives you the tools to set it up with just a few clicks.

Creating a Basic Multilevel List

To create a basic multilevel list:

  1. Type out your list items, with each item on its own line.
  2. Select the list items.
  3. On the Home tab, click the Multilevel List button.
  4. Select one of the predefined list formats from the menu.

That’s all there is to it! Word will format your list with the numbering or bullets you selected. At this point, it will be a single-level list, even if you chose a multilevel format.

Promoting and Demoting Items

To create multiple levels, you’ll need to promote or demote individual lines to the desired levels:

  • To demote a line to a sub-level, place your cursor on the line and press Tab or click the Increase Indent button on the Home tab.
  • To promote a line to a higher level, place your cursor on the line and press Shift+Tab or click the Decrease Indent button.

Tip: You can also right-click the line and select ‘Demote’ or ‘Promote’ from the context menu.

Demoting an item indents it and changes the numbering to show its sub-level status. Promoting does the reverse. This allows you to create a complete multilevel list with just a few clicks!

Customizing a Multilevel List

If you don’t like the default formats, you can completely customize the numbering, bullets, indents, and styling of a multilevel list.

To customize a list:

  1. Click your list to select it.
  2. On the Home tab, open the Multilevel List menu and select Define New Multilevel List.
  3. Click the More button to expand the dialog.
  4. Select each level on the left, then customize its format using the options on the right. Options include:
  • Number format
  • Number style
  • Indents
  • Tab position
  • Font, size, color
  • Follow number with punctuation
  • And more
  1. Click OK to apply the custom multilevel format.

This allows you fine control over the appearance of every level in your multilevel list. You can create pretty much any combination of nested lists with custom bullets, numbers, and indentation.

Tips for Using Multilevel Lists Effectively

  • Use multilevel lists to create outlines to organize information and show hierarchy.
  • Use them for numbered sequences like steps in a process or parts in a manual.
  • Combine bullets and numbers in the same multilevel list.
  • Apply heading styles like Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. to the top levels.
  • Restart numbering after a specific level to prevent deep nesting.
  • Adjust indents to emphasize the hierarchy visually.
  • Make sure each entry reads well as a complete sentence.

Troubleshooting Issues

If your multilevel list isn’t formatting properly:

  • Select the entire list and choose a predefined format to reset it.
  • Click Restart at 1 on the Home tab to restart numbering.
  • Adjust indents manually using Tab and Shift+Tab.
  • Make sure you are using true sub-levels, not just tabs or spaces to indent lines.
  • Set the list to start numbering at a higher level rather than just trying to continue previous numbering.

In most cases, choosing a predefined format clears up any issues. Fully selecting the list before applying changes also helps avoid inconsistencies.

Additional Tips and Tricks

  • Save custom multilevel lists in the List Library to reuse them later
  • Link levels to styles to maintain consistency
  • Show list levels on the status bar for quick reference
  • Start numbering at a higher level to allow more sub-levels
  • Assign a unique name to each custom list

Sample Uses for Multilevel Lists

Some examples of using multilevel numbered lists:

  1. Instruction Manuals
  2. Identify parts
  3. List prerequisites
  4. Show numbered steps
  5. Article Outlines
  6. Introduction
  7. Main point 1
    1. Supporting detail
    2. Supporting detail
  8. Main point 2
  9. Legal Documents
  10. Category 1
    1. Subcategory 1
      1. Item 1
      2. Item 2
    2. Subcategory 2
      1. Item 1
  11. Category 2

As you can see, nested numbered lists have many uses across different industries and document types thanks to the powerful multilevel features in Word.


Learning to create and format multilevel lists in Word is a valuable skill for organizing information and sequencing steps in documents. Whether you need a simple bulleted list or a complex multi-tiered outline, the tools are there in the Multilevel List menu. Mastering best practices for demoting and promoting items, customizing levels, and troubleshooting issues will have you working efficiently with nested lists in no time. Use these new skills to bring clarity to your documents!