For anyone who has self-published, you understand the pain and frustration of turning your manuscript into a print-ready file. Laying out a book is an art unto itself. Perhaps most frustrating for book designers working in Microsoft Word is the seemingly mundane addition of page numbering. A necessary evil, page numbering is a given for most (if not all) print books. So how can we make the task less painful?
This 4 step guide to adding page numbering ONLY covers page numbering. I look at some additional Word formatting in this article.
Here’s a tl;dr version, for those of your in a hurry:
Adding Page Numbers in Microsoft Word
- Complete writing, editing, and image placement
Finalize the content first; anything that could cause a shift in on page formatting can be detrimental to page numbering.
- Add Breaks
Page Breaks for controlling where content appears on the page, Section Breaks to control section-by-section headers.
- Format Header and Footer
Each section break defines a new Header and Footer. Use MS Word’s controls to link (or unlink) the Header and Footer before adding page numbers.
- Insert Page Numbers
Add the page numbers and review each section for proper linking and accuracy.
If you want to get into the nuts and bolts, along with detailed information and images, read on!
Step 1: Finish Your File
Do not, under any circumstances, add page numbering in MS Word before you have finished editing and revising your file. It’s a waste of time and energy. Book formatting is best approached in a thoughtful order; page numbering is at (or at least near) the end of the process.
Every little change in your file can shift or reposition other content, which in turn can impact your Breaks and throw off your page numbers. Don’t make more work for yourself by adding page numbering too soon.
In fact, before you do any formatting for your book, complete the content.
Get all your content into the file. All of it! That includes front matter (title and copyright page), back matter, everything. Set the fonts. Add Drop Caps. Apply Heading styles. Add images and position them.
Do this from the first page to the last in order. If you leap ahead and make a change, then go back and insert an image, the content will shift.
Pro Tip: it’s helpful while formatting to turn on Reveal Non-Printing Characters.
Non-Printing Characters include spaces, returns, and breaks. You’ll want these revealed so you can properly design and format.
2. Add Breaks
We’ve got the file formatted to look the way we want. Next step is to add all the Breaks to section off your content. For the most part, this will be at the end of chapters or sections in your book. You want the writing to end and the next section to start on a new page—to do so you Insert a Page or Section Break.
Please, do not EVER use hard returns to create space on the page.
You’ll be using two kinds of Breaks: Section Breaks and Page Breaks. Never use ‘hard returns’ to create white space on the page.
Breaks live in the ‘Insert’ tab or under the ‘Insert’ menu (for Mac users). They are unique formatting that will appear on the pages of your document as non-printing characters. Most importantly, Breaks will allow you to segment and section your file.
Sections give you the ability to define formatting within the file for specific pages only. Most importantly, breaking your file into sections allows you to control which pages have page numbers. Think about it; have you ever bought a book that has a page number on the very first page (the title or half-title usually)? Go grab a couple books off your shelf and have a look. I’ll wait.
Okay. I’m guessing you found that the front matter didn’t have any page numbering. If there was an introduction or other content before the book really begins, it probably has Roman Numerals for numbering. Then you get to the first official page of the book and it’s numbered “1”. To achieve this page numbering format in Microsoft Word, you’ll need to use Breaks.
Inserting a Page Break tells Word to stop adding content and move to the next page. Simple as that.
At the end of every chapter, add a Page Break to start the next chapter on a new page. You can use Page Breaks to add blank pages if you desire as well.
But, if you are going to add the chapter title to the header for each chapter, you’ll need to divide the file with Section Breaks.
I advise using only the ‘Next Page’ Section Break until you’re very comfortable with Word formatting. A Section Break (Next Page) works exactly like a Page Break with one addition—the file will be broken into a new ‘section’ on either side of the Break.
Instead of Page Breaks, use a Section Break (Next Page). Now each chapter will be a unique section of the document and you’ll have the control to add unique content for the Header (like chapter titles) and the Footer (like page numbers).
3. Format Your Header and Footer
Last step before we add the page numbering! Word offers a lot of control over how the Header and Footer are formatted. Which is great.
Unfortunately, Word defaults to some annoying settings that we have to manually update. I strongly recommend starting with the first section and working sequentially to update the settings for the Header/Footer in each section.
- Link to Previous – This setting is always defaulted to being ‘ON’ so you have to check it for all your sections. If selected, the Header and Footer will link to the Header and Footer in the previous section. To make page numbering sequential, Linking is helpful. But if you plan to add unique content for each section, the Link to Previous option must be turned off.
- Different First Page – Does the first page of a new chapter have an oversized chapter title? Or an image? A lot of authors who do this like to leave off the Header and/or Footer on the first page of a section. Check this box and the first page of the section will be completely unique.
- Different Odd & Even Pages – Okay, this one is important. If this option is not checked, adding anything to the Header or Footer will show up in all the following Headers or Footers in the section. If you want to have different content on the Odd and Even pages (like a title on one side and author on the other) you need to check this option.
4. Insert Page Numbers
This is it!
If you just used Page Breaks to separate chapters, you’ve got it easy. So let’s cover that one first.
Head to the first page you want your numbers to appear on (probably the first page of the first chapter) and double-click on the footer. While in the Footer, the ribbon should swap to the Header/Footer menu and you’ll see the ‘Insert Page Numbers’ button. Go ahead and click that.
Here we see the Page Number menu and the Format… menu opened beside it. I opted for ‘Outside’ as the alignment so the numbering will appear on the outside edge of the page. ‘Center’ is pretty common as well for a book.
In the Format menu, I set the ‘Start at’ to 1 so that the page I’m currently on will show ‘1’ in the footer. Click ‘OK’ for both menus and your numbering should fill in for the Footer in the entire section!
This is the easy way of adding page numbering if the body of your book is all one section. If you’re using individual sections for each chapter, there’s a little bit more work to do.
Remember in Step 3 (Format Your Header And Footer) that option for Link to Previous? I said we should go through and turn that off for all your Sections. Now that we’re adding page numbers, we need to link the page numbering. But we’re not going to use the Link to Previous command to do so.
This seems horribly counter-intuitive, but leaving the Link to Previous on when you add content to the Header or Footer can cause some truly infuriating shifts in content as you try to make adjustments. It should be possible to simply leaving the Linking on and turn it off as needed (say, as you add chapter titles to the Header) but in my experience, that creates a chain reaction of incorrectly placed content.
So I advocate for simply turning off all Link to Previous in your Footers.
With that done, you’ll notice that each Section in your document starts over with the page numbering set to 1. Click into that first page Footer of the new Section. Then click the Insert Page Number command in the Ribbon again and select the Format… option.
Instead of selecting ‘Start at’ you’ll check ‘Continue from previous section’ and the page numbering will follow from the prior section. This will link the page numbering independent of the Footer linking, allowing us to freely edit the Header/Footer for other content without breaking the page numbering.
Simplifying the Complex
Four steps to adding page numbering to your Word document. Seems like it should be simple, right?
- Finish all content design and add all images
- Insert Breaks for Page and Section – be sure the breaks are consistent
- Format the Header and Footer to define where Page Numbers and other Header content will appear
- Insert the Page Numbers and link them properly to ensure continuous numbering
The one thing I’ve learned from over a decade working with MS Word is that designing your file in the right order is absolutely vital.
With that in mind, the best way to keep page numbering simple is to do it last. This gives you the freedom to design the pages of your file without having to worry about linking pages for numbering, without having to set up a section, and ensures once you do get to that step, there won’t be any additional changes to disrupt the page numbering.
Bringing it all Together
I don’t love Microsoft Word. Never had any problem being honest about that either. It does a specific job (page layout) rather poorly and with many limitations. In my personal and professional life, I have done my best to get away from using Word at all. If you asked me for word processors, I would point you to Scrivener, Google Docs, or Plot Factory. For page layout, I would say InDesign or Affinity Publisher.
We also love to hear feedback about what information is useful for authors working on putting together their book. Stay tuned, in the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at one of the most important tasks Word users face: exporting a print-ready PDF from MS Word.