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24 April 2012

Three reasons to avoid multi-level paragraph numbering

Are you numbering the paragraphs you are writing? And the subparagraphs and the sub-subparagraphs?

Do you think you’re making your writing easier to read and refer to?

Do you think you’re saving time?

Be careful— you might be doing just the opposite. Here’s why we recommend writing flowing text.
  • You reduce complexity. You don’t want to destroy the flow of text by adding an unnecessary level of complexity. Only number paragraphs when ‘the frequency of cross-referencing demands it’ —when using bullet points would force you to write ‘see the second to last bullet point on page 15’. And don’t mix your numbering. Asking your reader to ‘see paragraph 5.2.1(a)’ defeats the purpose of using paragraph numbering at all. 
  • You keep your message clear and your reader focused. If you can’t keep track of what you are writing, you can’t expect your reader to. Neil James suggests ‘avoid[ing] decimal numbering that runs to three or four levels, such as,,, as this quickly becomes hard to follow’. Avoid confusing the reader by ordering your thoughts logically before you start to write. 
  • You make your task easier and quicker. You want your numbering to work and be quick to insert. You need to be tech savvy to use multi-level automatic paragraph numbers and avoid unstable numbering. Spend that time instead focusing on your text—what you want to say. 
It’s your message that you want your reader to remember, not the way it was numbered.

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