FrameMaker or Word, Part 2

One of the most frequent complaints I hear when comparing Microsoft® Word® to Adobe® FrameMaker® (FM) is on the topic of autonumbering. Autonumbering in FM is stable and easy to maintain. In Word, autonumbering has caused nightmares, especially with long documents. On the other hand, I haven’t experienced problems with autonumbered captions such as figure numbers and table numbers for several years.

In the past, whether you wrote large or small documents in Word, you’d eventually run into the nagging issue of going back and correcting numbered lists. They’d restart when you wanted to continue from a previous list or continue from previous lists when you wanted to start a new list. After you thought you had corrected the problem, you’d notice something wrong, and realize that the autonumbering problem had reintroduced itself. It was a well-known and vexing issue to professional writers.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with better ways to create numbered lists in Microsoft Word. For a long time, I abandoned autonumbering for numbered lists and headings. I continued to define paragraph styles that would accommodate these design elements, but when it came to including a number, I typed it manually. That’s not a satisfactory answer when every second of productivity counts.

I also experimented with using captions as numbered headings. They were relatively stable. Why not? This approach appeared to work, but it had a terrible drawback: pagination does not recognize caption-numbered headings. For example, if you had a series of training modules, and you wanted to include the module number with your page numbers, it didn’t recognize the caption number in your first-level heading.

In Office 2007, however, Microsoft began to address the problems surrounding autonumbering. You can read an interesting entry about this issue on the Microsoft Word Blogs.[1] As of this writing, I use Microsoft Office 2010. In running several tests, I noticed that numbered lists appear to work better now than in previous revisions of Word. I still have to decide whether I want subsequent lists to continue autonumbering from previous lists or start all over again, but the autonumbering appears to be stable after I’ve made the initial selection.

Microsoft may have put this issue to rest. The question that remains is whether autonumbering works consistently with large documents. For that kind of project, I have the following suggestions:

  • Set a maximum page count for every file in your project
  • Maintain a unique file for every major division such as chapters and modules
  • Set a maximum number of heading levels (Four should be more than enough.)
  • Keep numbered lists short and free of multi-level complexity
  • Do not create a master document for a large project
  • Use Reference Document (RD) fields in a separate file for your Table of Contents

If you follow this advice, and create the appropriate paragraph styles in your templates, you should be able to avoid most autonumbering issues.


[1]Stuple, Stuart J. (November 6, 2011). Numbering is Not Possessed. Word Team. Retrieved on March 13, 2012 from http://blogs.office.com/b/microsoft-word/archive/2006/11/06/numbering-is-not-possessed.aspx.

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