InDesign Fortnight 7: Lists: Numbers and Nested Lists

Yesterday we took a look at bulleted lists, today we’re going to take a look at numbered lists and nested lists – lists inside a list item.

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Creating Your List

Creating a numbered list is remarkably similar at the outset to creating a bulleted list (see yesterday’s post: but there are more options to be explored and some powerful features that make working with more complex multilevel lists much easier.

For that reason,  although the same ‘one-click’ functionality is available in the options bar, it is best to work with numbered lists inside a style for all but the simplest single-instance lists. Not only that, but to allow InDesign to manage the list numbers across stories and even documents (in the case of a book file) it is best to begin by defining a list.

Defining Your List

To do so, go to Type > Bulleted & Numbered Lists > Define Lists.

All you need to do here is to click the New button and name your new list (my example is called adobeProductList). Completing this step enables InDesign to do three things, two of which can be determined in this dialog – enabling the continuation of list numbers across stories and/or books, and additionally list levels – the key to multilevel lists.

Creating a Style for the Top Level of the List

With a text cursor placed inside one of the paragraphs to be at the top (first) level of my list, We’re going to create a new paragraph style. Making sure to check the Apply Style to Selection and Preview boxes, we can begin by naming the style – my example here is called productListMain – then set some simple text attributes (font, size, style, space before/after and so on); after that I’m going straight to the Bullets and Numbering category. As soon as you choose numbers from the List Type drop-down, you’ll see your text change and a number is inserted before the list item.

Next, associate your paragraph style with your list from the earlier step, although if you’d missed that out you can see that – just as with character and paragraph styles – you’ve got the option to create a new list from inside this dialog; choose your list from the drop-down and leave the Level field set at 1.

Now to choose the numbering format – I’m going to keep the top level of my list with the default numbering (1,2,3…). The number field is next and you’ll see that this is already populated with some metacharacters – ^#.^t . All they add up to is a number (^#) – to be precise, this actually means the current number from this level) – followed by a period (.) and then a tab (^t). Let’s decide not to have the tab character at this level and replace it with something else; highlight the ^t and then from the menu over to the right of the field, choose Insert Special Character > EnSpace – you’ll get a new metacharacter that looks something like this: ^>.

Now to add a character style for the number – there’s a good reason for doing this – the number will take on the style of the list item, which means that if you have a list item that has an italic style on it for example, then the number will take on that style. I created a style from inside the dialog that set the character format to regular with a red colour. Leave the Mode drop-down set to Continue from Previous Number. As there may be more than nine items at this level, we’ll set the alignment options to Right so that single and multiple digit numbers will align correctly. We’ll finish off this style by creating some indent for the numbers (I’ve gone for 10mm in my example); in this list there will only be single words so there’s no need for us to set a negative first-line indent. We can now click OK and a few moments later (using Quick Apply – if you’ve never come across it before read the section ‘applying the style quickly’ from day one of InDesign Fortnight) the top-level items are styled.

Creating the Next Level of the List

This is where the nested part comes in, and you’ve probably already guessed how it’s done – all we need to do is create a new paragraph style for the next level of the list, associating it with our existing list (that’s the magic step). With a text cursor inside one of the nested items, we can create a new paragraph style (mine is called productListDetail) and continue as before by setting the basic text attributes. When we get to the Bullets and Numbering category, again choose numbers from the List Type drop-down and then choose your list from the List menu – this time set the Level field to 2.

We can now set the format – I’m choosing letters (a, b, c…) for this level – and then turn our attention to the format field. This time, we’ll click before the current number metacharacter (^#) and from the menu on the right choose Insert Number Placeholder > Level 1 – if you’ve got preview turned on you should be seeing 1a now at the front of the list item. If you want, you could copy my example – I’ve manually added some parenthesis around the current number metacharacter, removed the period and replaced the tab with another En space: ^1(^#)^> is how it looks. After that it’s just a matter of playing with the indents to get them looking good and you’re done!

Converting the Numbers for the Clipboard

Something you need to keep in mind is that the numbers are added almost like an effect to your paragraphs – they don’t actually ‘exist’ as such (try selecting them – you’ll be there awhile) and this can cause you a problem should you need to paste the text into another application (like Keynote, Word or Powerpoint for example). The workaround is to copy the text into a new text frame (so you don’t ruin the flexibility of your original), then select it, and go to Type > Bulleted & Numbered Lists > Convert Numbering to Text – you’ll then be able to copy that text and paste it into your other application.

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