Create lists easily in Word

Some casual users find creating lists in Word difficult

Word 2019 iconOver many years of training users in Word (from basic to intermediate levels), I have noticed two things about creating lists:

  • Users often find list creation complicated and confusing
  • Most of the time, they only need to create simple lists

So, let’s forget all the complicated options offered in the “Paragraph” group of the “Home” tab of the Word ribbon. We can create simple lists just by starting a new paragraph with the specific characters “- ” (that is the hyphen, not the underscore, followed by a space) or “* ” (the asterisk – usually shifted 8, followed by a space). This will give us results as shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2. These are screen captures of an actual Word document, rather than part of this HTML document, so they look exactly as they would in your own Word document.

Lists - 1
Figure 1
Lists - 2
Figure 2

For the most part, my own method for creating Word documents is to get all my thoughts down first, and then go back over the document to format it nicely afterwards. Starting a list by the above methods is so easy that it doesn’t interrupt the flow to create the list as you go along.

Creating lists easily is a very good example of something I come across time and again with Microsoft Word – and especially when training people to use it – and that is that Microsoft seem to have “over-developed” this product in the eyes of many users.

By doing so, they don’t just make the program “feature rich”, they also risk actually reducing the overall usability of the program. Wouldn’t it be good if they could develop two different user interfaces for Word – one for “professional” use and one for “home” use? But maybe that would cost me work demystifying it. Hmm.

Changing Word Options

If these tips on how to create lists easily do not work for you – ie starting a line with “- ” or “* ” does not begin a list – then the option to do so has been turned off. Here’s how to turn it back on:

  • Click on the “File” option
  • Look down the lefthand sidebar until you find “options” (you may need to scroll off the bottom of the screen)
  • Click on “options”
  • Down the lefthand side of the box that pops up, click on “Proofing”
  • In the right of the window, click on “Autocorrect Options”
  • Across the top of the box that opens, click on “Autoformat as you type”
  • Put a tick in “Automatic bulleted lists”
  • Close the options windows by clicking on OK
(Last updated 12/07/2021)