4 Steps To Perfect Page Numbering In Microsoft Word

MS Word Page Numbering Blog Header

If you’re publishing and using print-on-demand to sell your book, you know the pain and frustration page formatting causes. Today, we’re going to cover one of the more annoying and (unnecessarily) challenging steps when using Microsoft Word: adding page numbering to your file.

Here’s a tl;dr version, for those of you in a hurry:

Adding Page Numbers in Microsoft Word

  1. Finishing Writing and Editing

    Finalize the content before you do any page layout. You should also add any styling and general formatting before you mess with page numbers. 

  2. Add Breaks

    Use Page Breaks for controlling where content appears on the page and Section Breaks to control section-by-section headers.

  3. Format Header and Footer

    Each section break defines a new Header and Footer. Check the settings for all your sections before inserting page numbering.

  4. Insert Page Numbers

    Add the Page Numbers and review each section for proper linking and accuracy.

Step 1: Finish Your File

Do not, under any circumstances, add page numbers before you have finished editing and revising your book. It’s a waste of time and energy. Book formatting is best approached in a thoughtful order; page numbering being among the last steps.

So before you insert page numbers, see to your page layout design. That includes formatting your text, adding styles, setting your page margins, and any images or graphics. Create and add all the front matter and back matter too. 

Finally, the last part of formatting your book design ties directly to your page numbering: adding breaks. That’s our next step, but first, turn on Reveal Non-Printing Characters.

Turn on reveal non-printing characters

Non-Printing Characters include spaces, returns, and breaks. You’ll want these revealed so you can properly add breaks to your file. 

Step 2: Add Breaks

Breaks—Page Breaks and Section Breaks—divide the page dynamically, so that when you export your PDF for printing, the spacing will stay uniform.

Please, NEVER use hard returns to create space on the page.

Using a Page Break in Word
Proper use of a Page Break
Using Hard Returns in Word
Using Hard Returns – a mistake

Breaks will allow you to segment and section your file. 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.

gif of fingers tapping

I’m guessing you found that the front matter didn’t have any page numbering. Then you get to the first official page of the book and the page numbering begins at 1. 

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Create your book and share it with the world.

Create Something

Create your book and share it with the world.

Page Break

Inserting a Page Break tells Word to stop adding content and move to the next page. Simple as that.

A page break in MS Word creating white space and telling the software to continue the content on the next page.

If your book uses the same numbering style for the entire file and you don’t have unique header content, add a Page Break at the end of every chapter to start the next chapter on a new page.

Section Break

Word has four kinds of Section Break you can use:

  • Section Break (Next Page) – starts the new section on the next page
  • Section Break (Continuous) – starts the new section on the current page
  • Section Break (Odd Page) – starts the new section on the next odd page
  • Section Break (Even Page) – starts the new section on the next even page

Use 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 is split into a new ‘section’ on either side of the Break.

Using Section Breaks to segment you file and assign unique formatting to specific sections

Use a Section Break (Next Page) to make each chapter a unique section of the document. You’ll have the control to add unique content for the Header (like chapter titles) for each section.

Word offers a lot of options to format the Header and Footer. With all of your breaks added, start with the first section and work sequentially to update the settings for the header/footer in each section.

Controlling your Header and Footer
  1. Link to Previous – This setting defaults 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. If you plan to add unique content for each section, you must turn off Link to Previous for all sections.
  2. Different First Page – A lot of authors like to leave off the header and/or footer on the first page of a section. Check this box and you’ll be able to format the first page of the section separately from the rest of the section.
  3. Different Odd & Even Pages – 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.

Step 4: Insert Page Numbers

If you just used page breaks to separate chapters, you’ve got it easy. 

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. 

Setting up the initial page numbers

Here we see the Page Number menu and the Format… menu opened beside it. Select the alignment for your page numbering. Also 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 page numbering will appear in the footer.

Be sure to close the header and footer (just double-click in the body of your page) to see how the page numbering will look.

If your chapters will have unique content in the header, you’ll need to insert section breaks at the end of each chapter. With that done, add page numbering to the first section. For each successive section, you’ll need to change the formatting when you insert the page numbers: select Continue from the previous section in the Page Number Format menu.

Formatting continuous page numbers

This will link the page numbering independently of the Footer linking, allowing us free to edit the Header/Footer for other content without breaking the page numbering.

Simplifying the Complex

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 set up a section and ensures once you ‌get to that step, there won’t be any additional changes to disrupt the page numbering. 

Microsoft Word’s method of page numbering is much more challenging than tools like Adobe InDesign or Affinity Publisher—but these publishing programs are designed for more complex book layouts. Microsoft Word is primarily a word processor and will always struggle to match tools like InDesign for page layout.

Last note: if you’re looking at Word and what you see doesn’t match the screenshots in this article, it’s likely because your version of Word and mine are not the same. Microsoft (infuriatingly) has a tendency to change the layout and location of various commands when they update the Office software. You may need to refer to their help pages for information about your version of Word.

Book Design And Print-On-Demand Services

Once you’ve got all your pages numbered and you’ve added header content, the last test is to export a PDF for printing. Most print-on-demand companies require a PDF to print. I would be very skeptical of a printer that DIDN’T require a PDF. 

Finally, once you’re satisfied with your layout in Word and the PDF looks good too, you’re ready to make a print order for a proof copy to see how the book (and your page numbering!) will look in print.

Paul H, Content Marketing Manager

Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.

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My question is about page numbering. I like to start page one with the first chapter, but my editor says that’s pagination. Help me understand why that is an issue. Thanks

How can I have my chapter titles be set up half way down the chapter title page? And also how do I put Roman numerals for the front matter of my book?

I am really grateful to you for sharing this information. And the way you have put it is so easy to understand. I have been stuck not knowing how to go about my next step in my publishing journey but now I can move on to the next step. This information is an answer to my prayer 🙏🙏🙏

Thank you for sharing. The fact that you illustrated the steps made it easier to understand.

Published author both in print and eBooks, but I was stuck. Perhaps it was just reading yet another comment on how to put together pagination for a print book but your explanation finally was a breakthrough. Unchecking “Different Odd and Even Pages” allowed the page numbering footer to merrily number all the pages, not just the odd ones so quickly I was left sitting, staring at my manuscript, wondering why, for the past three days, I have not realized that was the way to do it. (Realization came: the instructions I’d read on alternating headers had then said, “And do the same for your footer” but hadn’t added “…except for the Different Odd, etc.” I’ve been working with Word since 1997 but this had me stymied. Thank you.

I have finished a large, richly illustrated book in A4 format. I set up each chapter manually in Word, without page numbers. When I insert page numbers using what I take to be the correct usual method so that the book will be correctly paginated throughout, all my careful layout disappears, which appears to be because setting up the footer reduces the page size. How can I avoid this?

One of my colleagues sent me a document like this in 2017, that is numbered exactly like this. When I need a new document I have to overwrite the old one, because I cannot reproduce myself. Is it possible to send one to you and figure it out by reverse engineering it?

Ok I did that but the numbering is continuous. I want only the number of sheets and not the number of pages to appear in the odd pages

Is it possible to number only the sheets of a document instead of pages? For example in page 3 I would the header to be numbered as “2nd sheet”, page 5 as “3rd sheet”, page 7 as “4th sheet” etc.

What is the proper numbering:
1. 2. 3.
Then a. b. c.
Then. I, II, III
???? Need to know all levels for a process document.

Tech Writer

How can I make sure each chapter title comes out on an odd page, right side, because some chapters are longer than others and so sometimes the chapters end up on an even page?

hi, this is a kind of tricky question. I have a very long manual, with several sections. I already Managed to number pages according to the section brakes, so that each section starts with page 1, and the page number indicates section and number, e.g 3-2 means section 3 page 2.

For reasons related to regulatory specifications I’m being required to numerate the pages in absolute order. There is no way i would loose the section-page format, but would like to number absolute page numbers in the footer.

I haven’t found a way to tell word to disregard section separation in the footer page numbering. Any Ideas ?
(other than creating 2 different versions)


THANK YOU!!! WHY WHY WHY can’t MS write instructions with this kind of clarity??! I desperately miss the old Que Publications user manuals. they were like this: well-worded, succinct, and well illustrated!

Paul, I am working with newly purchased Mac Word version 16.33. I am trying to page number one-half of a physical page as page one and the second half of a physical page as page 2, etc. All of this is in landscape. Any help would be appreciated.

Paul, My recipe book does not have chapters. I have the usual front matter, a table of contents (hand-made, not created by Word) followed by the first recipe. So, I don’t have any headers or footers. Under step 4: How can I double-click in a footer to open the footer? Appreciate any advice.

Thank you for your post!
Is it possible to put both odd and even page numbering on the top left corner of the even page? So that, for ex. you have 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, …, on the even header and nothing on the odd header?

sorry, it shows as @p on each page

When I insert pagenumbers the document onkly shows #p on each page. How to fix this?

Everything I have read on various web sites seems to think that appendices need to have page numbers. This is fine if your appendix has content in it. However I write documents that have appendices that do not have any content in the Word file. I take the Word file and print it to PDF where I then use Adobe DC to insert other information like a manual on a boiler or pump etc. These may have over 50 to 60 pages in. This is why I am not numbering the appendices but am book marking them separately and creating two contents sections on the first page.

thanks for your post…much clearer than the Word manual. I never thought about waiting until you finish before inserting numbers but I can see why you are so emphatic about that point and will heed your advice.

Great rundown! Long ago I learned a hard lesson in using returns instead of a page break. I never made that mistake again.
Also, I use a new Word file for every part of the book: the first pages with title and copyright info, the introduction (if any; pagination in Roman numerlas), the body of the text, then a final section with “about the author” and – if I have extra pages – promos for other books. This way if I find an error in the final completed PDF made at the LULU site, I need only slug in the replacement section. This rarely interferes with the pagination which I continue from one file to the next if needed. If it does, and it creates a new page, I will just edit that section more to tighten it up. Saves plenty of trouble!
When I reproduce an old book in facsimile form, such as the King Curio Catalog #81 I don’t use Word. I make hi-res scans of the pages then I slug them into the pages using an InDesign or VivaDesigner template that I have devised. These design programs have the advantage of easily allowing for digitally cleaning up the files as well. This is important with a book that may be 80 years old.

“Roman Numerals”! See what I mean about typos?

Great article on page numbering! Thanks! Question: since my author and I are currently using Word 365 with all the continuing problems, and since we are about half way through revising a 300 page book with lots of charts, pictures, and checklists, would I be better off switching later on to Scrivener or Google Docs? I suspect the author, 80, won’t be up to learning a new bit of software (so I’ll have to keep going with Word for a while), but I would switch if it makes sense to do so.

Perhaps worth noting: a few years ago I created a book template for typical 6×9 books, refined it working with a professional book designer (this was part of The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing, published in paperback by Information Today, Inc–and in hardbound at Lulu, using the template and the same body PDF for both) and made it freely available. The template’s at waltcrawford.name/bk6pvex.dotx, and links to it and an “example template” version are at waltcrawford.name/lgm. Entirely free for use. Feel free to copy, modify, rename, post elsewhere. Easy to modify for your preferred typefaces, etc. The template uses Palatino Linotype as a body type and Verdana for most headings. [I’ve published more than a dozen Lulu books, most using a variant of this template.)

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