When opening the document I am working on in Word 2010 this morning, the number in heading level 1 is a black rectangle:

enter image description here

however, it still look ok in the bookmark pane:

enter image description here

Weird, ey?

13 Answers 13

  1. Place the cursor just to the right of the black box in any example of the affected heading.
  2. Hit (left arrow) and the black box should turn gray.
  3. Type Ctrl+Shift+S to bring up a style popup.
  4. Click Reapply.

This has worked every time I've had this problem.

  • 11
    Note that the arrow is a left arrow and not a backspace. ;) – CramerTV Feb 4 '15 at 2:36
  • 4
    you are a genius thank you thank you thank you – Nickool Jul 11 '16 at 0:59
  • 6
    Worked for me until I saved the doc, closed it, and re-opened it. ARGH! – Dave Sep 1 '16 at 23:21
  • 5
    I wish I could upvote this more times than once. – Tucker Sep 29 '16 at 8:37
  • 5
    This worked for me until I re-opened the file. What worked permanently for me was to do this above, then right click on the problem style in the Style Gallery and select "Update to Match Selection". What a mess. – catdotgif Mar 13 '17 at 18:49

I solved this after all, I also noticed that someone else was unable to resolve this on a Microsoft forum, so if you read this, here is my solution:

  1. Press properties for Heading 1
  2. Press format, numbering
  3. Chose No numbering. Exit the properties. All numbering will now disappear.
  4. From the "start" pane, press multi-level-list, and then the format that looks like:
  1. Heading 1

1.1. Heading 2

1.1.1. Heading 3

  • 4
    This problem still occurs in year 2014. But your solution doesn't solve it permanently... Save, Close and Open brings back the black box – print x div 0 Mar 4 '14 at 15:05
  • 2
    In my case this seems to work. Flamingo's solution did not work for me – Anonymous Aug 3 '15 at 9:00
  • 1
    Also still exists in year 2016. – TJJ Nov 12 '16 at 16:04
  • 5
    Even in 2018... – Steve Horvath May 28 '18 at 6:10
  • Even in 2019... – Kaenbyou Rin Oct 19 '19 at 23:37

I tried all of the answers above, some worked, but... the black rectangle came back each time I reopened the document.

In short : I had to remove all the numberings (A) and recreate the multilevel list(B).

Here is how to do it:

A: Remove the numbering

  1. Place the cursor on the first Heading 1.
  2. Click on the button Numbering in Ribbon/Home/Paragraph to remove the number (1 on the picture).
  3. Select the whole line where your Heading 1
  4. Right-Click on Heading 1 in the Ribbon/Home/Style and select "update heading 1 to match selection" (2 on the picture)

Redo step 1 to 4 for all your headings (I had to go until Heading 6). Make sure by scrolling down in the navigation/heading panel, that all the number before your headings are removed.

B: recreate a multilevel list

  1. Place the cursor just before the first heading 1
  2. Click on Multilevel list in Ribbon/Home/Paragraph and choose the format you want (3 on the picture). [In a comment, fl0w also suggests to select "Define new multilevel list" and construct a multilevel list]

enter image description here

  • 1
    this actually worked pass close and reopen +1 !! – Dani May 21 '17 at 7:34
  • did not work for me past save and re-open – fl0w Sep 19 '18 at 13:55
  • 2
    it did not work for me past close and reopen, because it lacks one Step: You have to actually start a new multi level list in heading one not just click on the button! If you could please edit, as i have no reputation on this site to do so. – fl0w Sep 19 '18 at 14:01
  • @fl0w, I don't undestand what you mean. Are you talking about step B2? Do you mean that "choosing one of the format in the Multilevel menu" is not enough? – MagTun Sep 20 '18 at 13:12
  • 1
    Step b2 or in the picture "3" - you have to select "start a new list" or similar (i have a german language pack, so i don't know how it's called in the english version). – fl0w Sep 21 '18 at 7:06

I spent around 5 hours trying to fix this problem and was close to pulling my hair out. I tried every fix suggested on the net (creating new multi lists and importing uncorrupted styles etc) and the problem kept returning.

The below seems to have worked for me and I hope it's a permanent solution.

  1. Firstly I did the following as has been suggested by a number of users a) Put your cursor on the heading just right of the black box b) Use the left arrow key on your keyboard to move left until the black box turns grey c). Use the keyboard combination ctrl+shift+s, the dialog "Apply Styles" should appear d) In this box, click "reapply"

  2. Once the black boxes had disappeared I saved the document as a word 1997-2003 document (document 2).

  3. I resaved document 2 as a normal word document (2013 in my case) and selected the compatibility mode option when saving (document 3)

  4. I resaved document 3 as a word document (2013) and deselected the compatibility mode option (document 4).

It seems to have worked and the black boxes have disappeared. I hope this is a permanent fix otherwise I will go back to working on document 2 (word 2003 version).

  • This is the only method that solved it. May be the whole problem is related to a .doc vs. .docx compatibility issue. I my case, the document was indeed created from a .doc before. The affected headings additionally lost bold formatting for the numbering after the repair. Putting that back and saving as .doc again results in a message that formatting would be lost. So, saved as .docx, loosing compatibility, and the black background went back - at least sometimes, seems to depend on the exact order of actions. I finally managed to get it to work with your method. Thanks. – Adrian W Jun 13 '18 at 9:26
  • Thanks for this answer. I couldn't get it to work by following your answer completely, but here's what I did to solve it. I have word 2016. I solved my problem by following steps 1 and 2 in your answer, but instead of 3, I went to File -> Convert (Compatibility Mode) which upgraded my document back to a .docx. Then I did ctrl + s to save it. The headings now persist. Hooray! – FullmetalEngineer Oct 2 '18 at 14:49
  • 1
    +1. Thank you for ending my frustration. Yes I'm writing this in 2019. – 355durch113 Feb 10 '19 at 16:11
  • saving as Word 1997-2003 format do the trick – Michal Bernhard Mar 24 '19 at 9:42
  • This worked for my by stopping at step 3 (i.e. don't resave again and remove the compatibility option). – morgb Sep 4 '19 at 18:25

Some extra help for others with this problem (I still had this working in Word 2013 with an older "compatability mode" document.)

For me, the blacked out numbering was occuring only on "Heading 3". To fix:

  1. Modify style properties for Heading 1 - select Numbering = None
  2. Modify style properties for Heading 2 - select Numbering = None
  3. Modify style properties for Heading 3 - select Numbering = None
  4. Move cursor to text that is formatted as Heading 1
  5. From the ribbon bar, [home]>Paragraph section, select Multi-Level-List. Make sure you choose the option as above with all the Heading names listed (you may see one with first 3 levels missing).

I have had issues with this as well.

Fix was to select the numbering that is blacked out and setting the font size to something other than blank (I assume that causes the problem). Simple update heading to match selection fixes the rest of the instances.

Good luck.

  1. Place the cursor just to the right of the black box in any example of the affected heading.
  2. Hit left arrow key and the black box should turn gray.
  3. From your Styles box re-apply the style you want to use (Heading 1)
  4. It should now show you the valid style (number visible).

When you close and open your document however this reverts to the previous style (black box). In order to prevent this, once the style is how you want it to be (number visible) do the following:

  1. Right click the number (style).
  2. Go to 'Styles'
  3. Click on 'Update Heading 1 to match selection'

Now save and close/re-open the document and it should no longer revert.


It can be fix in the Outline style

Go to

Modify Style => Format => Text effects => Outline style

her the outline style should be 0 pt, which wasnt in my case


You can resolve this issue by right clicking on Quick Style heading -> rename ... After renaming the problem disapear!


In Microsoft Word 2010 Leveled Numbering list turns to black box

I searched some forums and got the fix, please follow the below points

  1. Put your cursor on the heading just right of the black box
  2. Use the left arrow key on your keyboard to move left until the black box turns grey
  3. Use the keyboard combination ctrl+shift+s, the dialog "Apply Styles" should appear
  4. In this box, click "reapply"

The problem is in your chosen numbering format. Just select Multilevel List for your numbering format instead of Numbering.

Home tab==>Paragraph==>Multilevel List

Then you can see your numbering format in Styles preview too. Hope it works ;)


The only way I've found that fixes this, permanently, is to scratch your current custom numbering format and to rebuild one from scratch.


I've been having this same problem with documents that get passed around with several people making edits and enteries. What has fixed it so far for me is that I have a template that is used for these documents with the numbering setup as styles. I just take the whole affected document and dump it into a blank template and select "Use denstination styles", and that normally fixes the problem.

  • This answer is not much help if you do not give more information about that template, so the OP can reconstruct it for him/herself. – Jan Doggen Nov 19 '14 at 15:47
  • I don't think that it makes much difference which template I use. I think as long as you're using a template that has the numbering styles used in the document, it will fix the issue. Of course that could change if the document continues to be passed around for comments. – Rich Nov 21 '14 at 18:14
  • You can, and should use comments for stuff like this. – Journeyman Geek Nov 22 '14 at 1:37

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