As editors, we’re often helping clients to make their long documents as easy to read as possible. This doesn't just mean improving structure, flow and grammar. It can also involve helping the reader to navigate the document; for example, with headings, bullets and section numbering. One of the tools we need to master here is page numbering.

Happily, modern word processors automate the page numbering, so when we move sections of a document, the page numbers adjust and retain their correct order. But what if the document has different sections? Ah, things just got more complicated. Don’t worry, I can show you how to deal with page numbering in Word in this situation.

How to add page numbers of different styles to different sections in MS Word

Word has a huge array of settings for page numbers (hence this blog being the first of a series on this topic!). We’ll start by going step by step through something that is often required but can be tricky to set up; that is:

  • numbering the preliminary material with roman numerals
  • numbering the main text with arabic numerals
  • having no number on the front cover.

Step 1 – show formatting

The very first thing to do when working with page numbers is to show formatting, so that you can see what’s happening. To do this, go to the Home tab in Word and click on the pilcrow or paragraph mark (¶), which you’ll find in the Paragraph group (Mac: the ¶ symbol is in the Standard toolbar). Clicking on this symbol shows the formatting in your document, such as paragraph marks, page breaks and section breaks.

Step 2 – insert section breaks

  1. Open a blank Word document and type the word ‘Cover’ on the first page, then insert a section break. To do this go to the Layout tab, look at the Page Setup group at the left-hand end and click on the Breaks icon to see this drop-down list (Mac – go to the Format menu, click Document and choose Page Setup).
    From the Section Breaks part of this list, select Next Page.
    (To avoid all these steps, I keep the Breaks icon on my Quick Access Toolbar).
  2. Next, type ‘Prelims’ on this second page of your Word document, then insert another ‘Next Page’ section break.
  3. On page three of your document, type ‘Main’.

Your document now has three pages, separated by section breaks and with the following text:

  • Cover (which will have no numbering)
  • Prelims (to which we’ll add roman page numbering)
  • Main (to which we’ll add arabic page numbering).

Step 3 – break the connections

Something that makes page numbering tricky is that Word (in an attempt to be helpful) links the numbering in the different sections. Before adding any page numbers, we’ll break those links

  1. Put your cursor in the Prelims page.
  2. Select the Insert tab in Word (Mac – Elements tab) then, in the Header & Footer group, click on the Footer icon – from the drop-down menu select Edit Footer.
  3. This automatically takes you to the footer, where you’ll this:
  4. By default, the footer is set to be the same as the previous one, but you want each of your three sections to be different. You will see you’re in the Header & Footer tab of Word (or possibly in the Design tab), and that Link to Previous (in the Navigation group) is highlighted:
  5. Click on Link to Previous, then move your cursor – you’ll see that the link is no longer highlighted. Also, the ‘Same as Previous’ will have disappeared from your footer.
  6. Now go to the last page of your document (where you typed ‘Main’) and follow the same steps to unlink that footer.
  7. Finally, double click in the text of one of your pages, to get out of the header/footer and back into the text.

You’re now ready to start inserting page numbers!

Step 4 – add page numbers

  1. Go to the second page of your document and put your cursor in the word ‘Prelims’.
  2. Select the Insert tab (Mac – Elements tab) in Word then, in the Header & Footer group, click on the Page Number icon. From the drop-down menu select Bottom of page and the option Plain Number 2.
  3. You should now have an arabic number ‘2’ in your footer (the ‘2’ is because Word has automatically assumed that the cover page is ‘1’).
  4. Word will take you to the Header & Footer tab (or possibly to the Design tab) and open the footer – this is where we can make the change to roman numerals. In the Header & Footer group, again click on the Page Number icon, but this time select Format Page Numbers from the drop-down menu.
  5. The Page Number Format box allows you to choose the number format – the default is arabic, but for this section you want to choose roman (i.e. i, ii, iii).
  6. The box also allows you to choose whether to continue numbering from the previous section (i.e. as ‘ii’) or to start at a particular number (i.e. to ignore the cover page and start at ‘i’).

Now go to the third page of your document, put your cursor in the word ‘Main’ and repeat these steps to add a page number to this section, keeping the default format (i.e. arabic numbering) and having the page numbering starting at ‘1’. You could also try adding some extra pages to the prelims and main section, to see that the numbering style continues.

Success! You can now insert sections with different page numbers in Word

These steps may seem rather elaborate, but using this method you should be able to easily set different styles of page numbering in different sections. In the next post in this series, we’ll tackle some of the more advanced options for page numbering.


    If you're keen to learn more about tools to help you save time and improve the quality of your editing, you might like to take a look at my courses in PerfectIt and EndNote. You can also book a coaching call with me to hone your EndNote skills.