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Line number your writing

16 December, 2008

numbersMicrosoft Word lets you number each line of your story. Why do this? It is a great help when you send material to others  for comment  or when you comment on others’ work.

In my writing group, we email our work to each other and print out our own copy of what is sent. The problem is that everyone’s printer prints differently. Having line numbered material lets us easily zero in on a point in the text during our discussion. No more time-wasting locational talk, e.g., ‘I want to talk about the scene at the bottom of page 2,’ and ‘It’s at the top of page 3 on my printout,’ and ‘I’m confused, where are we talking about?’

(Yes, I know everyone could send PDF files but people tend to keep to what they’re comfortable with.)

Line numbers also make it easier when you provide written comments on someone’s work.

Instead of clumsy locational markers: When Alice goes into the coffee shop after the fight, does she….

Use line numbers: Lines 28-32: does Alice….

How to number your lines

  1. In the toolbar above your Word document, pull down the FILE menu and select PAGE SETUP.
  2. From Page Setup select the LAYOUT tab.
  3. When the Layout screen is open, go to the bottom and click on the LINE NUMBERS button.
  4. When it opens, tick (check) two choices:
    Numbering: CONTINUOUS.

When you look at your document in Print Layout mode, each line is numbered. Don’t know how to get to Print Layout mode? Go to the toolbar above your document, pull down the VIEW menu, and select PRINT LAYOUT.

Keep draft sent to readers

After you send a draft off for comment, keep a copy of this sent draft, which has the same line numbering your readers will follow when commenting. When you change your text, the line numbers automatically change as well. If you revise the copy you sent to readers (and have no backup), you won’t be able to find the places in your text that they are referring to.

Partial line numbering

If you don’t want your title or other prefacing information to be part of your numbering?

Insert a section break and then position your cursor beyond the break. Follow the same instructions for line numbering except that when you get to the LAYOUT screen, go to the APPLY TO box and select THIS POINT FORWARD. Then select ADD LINE NUMBERING.

How do you make a section break? Go to the toolbar above the Word screen, pull down the INSERT menu, select BREAK. Under Section Break Types select CONTINUOUS.

Remove line numbers

To remove line numbers, Go to FILE, then PAGE SETUP, then LAYOUT, then LINE NUMBERS. Deselect ADD LINE NUMBERING.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    7 October, 2011 6:47 am

    i still dont understand


  2. 2 January, 2009 8:57 am

    I love that! As a musician, I rely heavily on measure numbers, yet I had never thought of doing this with writing.
    I wouldn’t do this with my paid writing, actually, but with students and writers’ groups, it’s brilliant!


    • Marsha permalink
      3 January, 2009 9:37 am

      Hi Rebecca, I’m glad you find this useful. I hadn’t thought about line numbering being like measures but you’re right–it’s all about quickly and accurately finding a point in a work, musical or written. It works well in writing groups because it keeps the focus on discussing ideas rather than searching for locations in the text. One downside is that it can encourage nit-pickers to talk about EVERY issue because it’s so easy to direct others to each point they want to comment on. One way to reduce members’ temptation to go through all their comments is to ask them to highlight 3-5 main points they want to raise and make them stick to this. Marsha


  3. 19 December, 2008 11:00 am

    Being new to the writing game, I thought this feature on word you pointed out makes a lot of sense. When I start submitting my work for publishing I will certainly be using this tool. In the meantime, I am going to apply your last prompt in writing about my week in Sevilla. You are certainly a mine of information. Thanks. A


    • Marsha permalink
      20 December, 2008 8:27 am

      Hi Arlene, Nice to hear from you again. I envy you, experiencing the cold of a London Christmas. When you submit work, you’ll need to find out if the editors want numbering. They may not because they are assessing your work, not responding to it in detail. But it’s certainly a great help when you’re getting detailed feedback from others. Best wishes for the holidays, Marsha PS–I think there’s a story somewhere in your experience with The Lodger–maybe combine it with your interest in murder mysteries???


  4. 17 December, 2008 3:55 pm

    I think this is a great article. Another option, if you’re already conducting your writing group via email, would be to try a site for facilitation online writing groups.

    I’m a bit biased towards since I helped start it, but there are several out there. On Review Fuse you can create your own group, upload your work from a word doc (or really most any kind of text or word processing file), set permission so just your group can see it, and then use the review frameworks and inline commenting features to provide feedback to each other.

    The site automatically numbers each line, but also allows you to make comments and quote text from specific paragraphs very easily. It even keeps track of revisions. Best of all, it’s free. 🙂

    I know this post might seem a little (or a lot) self promoting, but I really think it could be a great solution to the issue you describe. Check us out and let me know what you think or if there’s something we could do better. We love feedback. Thanks!


    • Marsha permalink
      18 December, 2008 7:24 am

      We email our material and meet in the flesh once a month, but thanks for pointing me to ReviewFuse. It has some great features that make it easy to comment online. I like the set-up where you can post your own work but only if you review others’ work, and also the quality-control step of having each recipient of your review evaluate your comments. Makes a good check-and-balance to weed out the inept or downright weird reviewers. Marsha



  1. Write This Way: Writing and Editing Links for January 12, 2009 « Write Livelihood

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