LibreOffice Writer: A Numbered List Style Deconstructed

Note: We will be talking about how you can change the settings on styles. If you want to keep your original styles intact while experimenting, I recommend you go the very last icon on row 2 of the Styles and Formatting window, which lets you create a new style based on the selection. Select the style you want to play with, then go this icon and click it to get a copy you can play with. That way your original is preserved.

Just as we did in the previous lesson on Bullet lists we will take apart one of the Numbered list styles and see what makes it tick. Many of the options here are similar to what we saw with Bullet lists, but there are some important added features for Numbered lists that we will look at. Bullet lists are generally just collections of items with no particular order implied. An example might be shopping list, where you need to pick up milk, eggs, and bread at the store. There is no particular order or hierarchy here, just three things you need to get. But in a Numbered list the idea of order is inherent. An example is directions on how to get somewhere. You need to go 3 miles on this road, then turn right, go another 2 miles, then turn left, go another mile and stop. You will only get where you are going if you follow these steps in this exact order. Mix them up and you will be lost.

So, with Numbering 1 selected, right-click, choose Modify, and you get the style configuration window for this style. As before, the Organizer tab is greyed out since built-in styles don’t have configurable options here. And the Bullets tab and the Graphics tab are not of any use since these are just for Bullet lists. So the first place to look at is the Numbering Style tab:

The Style window for Numbering 1 showing the different Numbering Styles available

So what you have here is selection of styles you can apply to your numbered list. You have Arabic and Roman numerals, periods and parentheses, and upper and lower case. To choose one of them for your numbered list, click on the appropriate square so that you see a thick black border around it, and then click the Apply button. Your list will then take that style. The standard style in Numbering 1 is the second from the left on the top row, so if you change it and then decide you want to go back to the original, just make that selection and apply it.

Outlining is a topic in itself, so I won’t go into it here. This is a powerful use of numbered lists, however, and we will discuss it in another tutorial.

The next tab to look at is Position. This works very much the same way as with Bullet lists, but to go over it again, the first item we should look at is Level. By design, all lists are meant to be used as a hierarchy when needed. That means that they function somewhat like an outline, in that you have main list items in level 1, and sublists in level 2, and so on. LibreOffice Writer gives you up to 10 levels you can control, but for now let’s just look at Level 1 for a simple list. If you click on the 1 in the Level  field you can see the built-in settings for this particular style.

This window shows the built-in settings for Level 1 of the Numbering 1 list style.


The first setting is “Numbering followed by”, and it is set to Tab. That means that there is a tab setting for where the actual text will start on each list item. Other options are Space, and Nothing. If you select Space you get a single blank space between the numbering and the text, so that it will be the same as if you typed the numeral, then a period, then a space, and then began your text. The other option, Nothing, just omits the space. Of the three, I think the Tab is best, and so do the LibreOffice developers, since that is the one they chose here. The reason why rests on how this will look if you have a long list that goes to double digits. If you used either Space or Nothing, when you got to number 10 all of your text would be shifted over because of the added numeral. And with a proportional font you would see them shifted over by slightly varying amounts. With a Tab, everything is lined up just right. And this matters even more if you used Roman numerals since they take up such varying space themselves. The other part of the tab setting is where it should go. The default shown here for this is .2″ on my machine. Your’s may have a setting in cm instead. The thing to understand is that this calculated from the left margin, not from where the numbering ended. And this is why it gives a perfectly lined up list.

“Numbering alignment” is also relative to the left margin, and works with the “Aligned at”. In the default for this they are set for Numbering alignment at Left and Aligned at set to o.o”. Aligned at is the offset to the margin, and at o.o” it means there is no offset at all. If you click on each level in succession you can quickly see how this works. Level 2 is Aligned at 0.2″, which means it will be start 0.2″ from the left margin. Level 3 is aligned at 0.39″, Level 4 at 0.59″, and so on. Each level is “indented” by around a fifth of an inch compared to the level above it.  If your list did not have a lot of levels you could increase these offsets. Then the Alignment determines where the left margin is relative to the numbering. So if it is left aligned, the left margin is is on the left of the numbering, or to put it another way, the numbering starts right at the left margin if there is no offset. This is what you usually expect. But if you had selected Center, the left margin would run right through the center of your numbers if there is no offset. And if you chose Right, the left margin would come after your number if there is no offset.

The last of the Position settings is for Indent at. This sets what happens to the text if your list item is more than one line long. If you have a different indent than your Tab stop the first line will not line up with subsequent lines. Generally, you want them to be the same.

This is the Numbering 1 style with the different Position settings illustrated

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