Paragraph styles / multilevel lists

Libreoffice version:

In This post about paragraph styles and multilevel lists it says

With the present Writer specification, you can’t have different paragraph styles across list levels.

I was fiddling a lot with LibreOffice to make it achieve exactly this nonetheless (and, surprisingly, it worked somehow until recently). Now I tried to set up a new document template because the list styles got lost, probably due to an update.

I found doing the following did exactly what I wanted it to do:

Assign style “Heading 1” to text. Right click → List → Bullets and Numbering: configure numbering scheme and indents. Then format “Heading 1” paragraph style to your liking.
Rinse / repeat with other Heading paragraph styles and the relevant list configuration. In no time I have a fully working multilevel list where level 1 and 2 use classic numbering but level 3 to 5 use bullets with custom symbols. I can switch levels with <TAB> and <SHIFT><TAB> and the best thing is the paragraph style I configured for the relevant heading level is applied automatically. Magic!

Then I save, close the document and open it again. All list configurations are gone. Paragraph styles are there, but the entire list configuration (numbering/bullet, indents) is gone.

The interesting thing is that if I save the new document as docx, then these settings are remembered. However, docx has other limitations that make it unusable for me (can’t save custom user indexes, they get reverted to table of contents after save and reopen).

Is there a way I can make Libreoffice save these configurations?

Yes, define a proper list style.

In your procedure description, you tune the bullet/numbering through Format>Bullets & Numbering (right-click is equivalent) which acts upon the default list style. This default list style is transient (not saved across sessions) because it is the poor man’s approach (translate: for users coming from Word) to list direct formatting. Direct formatting can be changed for every list item. This is not the reliable or “professional” way of formatting a document. Everything should be done through styles.

It works in .docx documents because Word knows only of paragraph styles. Everything else is direct formatting. When the document is reloaded, to avoid conflicts with future additions, Writer converts most of direct formatting to one-shot single use styles, creating a real mess in the style dictionary. Heading hierarchy is treated special and survives sessions.

The correct way to handle your case is to create a list style. A list style is rather badly named because it describes the counter/bullet and its position in the paragraph. The rest of attributes must be defined in a paragraph style as usual (except for indents which are taken over by the list style).

Instead of tweaking the bullet/numbering for Heading n in a rather contorted way, you could as well work with Tools>Chapter Numbering which is the specific list style dedicated to outline numbering.

However, using Heading n for a multi-styled list other than the one reserved for headings is not recommended. Doing so prevents you from having numbered chapters and building a TOC. If you mix both usages, you end up with a mess.

You can get what you want with a user-defined list style and a set of paragraph styles plus an operation procedure.

To create a list style, display the style side pane (F11 or Styles>Manage Styles) and press on fifth icon from left in the style pane toolbar.

Right-click and New. Use only the Customize and Position tabs. The others preset the value of attributes. You can use them to initialize but never reuse them afterwards because they will reset all your customisation.

Create the paragraph styles for your levels and associate your list style in the Outline & Numbering tab of the paragraph style, Numbering style drop down menu.

When you enter a list item, give it the required paragraph style corresponding to the level. Note that there is no way to tell Writer that this paragraph style is permanently associated with a list level. Therefore, your item is at level 1. You must force the item to the required level by typing n-1 Tab character at head of it to force it at level n.

Changing a list item level requires two actions: 1) changing the paragraph style, 2) changing the level by typing Tab or Shift+Tab to go respectively to level +1 or -1.


Thank you @ajlittoz, but yes, that confirms it basically is not really possible to do what I need LibreOffice to do. In my usage scenario I need LibreOffice to produce documents with a consistent look and a structure where certain layout modules repeat themselves in varying combinations that I need to be able to switch between as conveniently as possible. Manually re-assigning paragraph styles all the time when the logical structure of the document already defines when which paragraph style should be applicable is sadly inefficient. I understand I am using a “dirty hack” with the docx version but currently it seems to be the only way to produce the desired result.

If only editing the chapter numbering would allow me to make certain levels use bullets instead of numbers then that would already be a help. I wouldn’t mind the mess that using the chapter numbering creates with TOCs, as I am actually building a custom index out of certain list levels.

Or if I could edit the outline numbering / chapter numbering list style persistently which sadly gets hidden from view.

But many thanks for clarifying that you can’t link paragraph styles to list levels.

I confirm you can’t patch persistently chapter numbering for bullets. The choice of bullets in chapter numbering is disabled because it would result in an ambiguity in cross-references: a bullet can’t be incremented (it is not a number) and several chapters would end up with the same bullet (=pseudo-number).

Therefore it is forbidden.