I was working in a word document this morning and all was well, it has custom styles I've used many times. I made a bunch of changes to the document, saved it and sent it off. The person I sent it to said the numbering was messed up, when I re-opened it, sure enough, all the numbers have been replaced by black boxes.

I'm working in Office 2013, they are working in 2010 and 2007. Anyone ever seen this or know how to fix it?

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  • 1
    Sounds like a font issue. What font were you using and does the person you sent the document to have those fonts?
    – burrowsrjl
    Dec 24, 2012 at 0:34
  • Sorry, missed this over the holidays. Standard font, Calibri I think. User definitely has the same font.
    – McB
    Jan 14, 2013 at 18:09
  • When you say the numbering is messed up, are you talking about the numbers of numbered lists, heading numbers, or page numbers? Is the black box that appears a font? Select it and see what it is. If it isn't a font issue and Word's built-in styles are Ok with the move from 2013 to 2010 and 2007, then the custom style might be the candidate. Have a look at what happens to the style definition on 2010 and 2007 and when its opened again in 2013.
    – burrowsrjl
    Jan 15, 2013 at 22:37

6 Answers 6


Word heading number blacked out

If the link doesn't work well, try this:

Place the cursor just to the right of the black box in any example of the affected heading. Hit and the black box should turn gray. Type Ctrl+Shift+S to bring up a style popup. Click Re-apply.

I just tried this just now and it worked for me. Good luck!

  • I just tried this as well, and it worked. Thanks
    – molgar
    May 26, 2015 at 16:45
  • Thanks very much, it works !! You just have to make sure the black turns grey, follow exact instructions. Nov 3, 2015 at 9:40
  • 2
    This works for me until I save the document, close it, and re-open it... So frustrating!!
    – Dave
    Sep 1, 2016 at 23:20
  • I had the same issue. It worked until I closed and re-opened it.
    – Kentgrav
    Sep 2, 2020 at 15:34

A quite old topic but these solutions didn't work for me... I had to create and run a macro to resolve the issue. Here it is, in case it can help someone:

Sub RemoveBlackBox()
' RemoveBlackBox Macro

For Each templ In ActiveDocument.ListTemplates
For Each lev In templ.ListLevels
Next lev
Next templ

End Sub
  • You saved me. This macro was the only thing that worked. Thank you very much. Dec 20, 2016 at 1:19

A solution that helped me repair the document permanently was provided by a user on a social.technet thread.

Having been through the same frustration, here is how I've successfully addressed this problem.

By Example

Given: Heading 1 ordered list style has the number portion blacked out.

Place the cursor at the text formatted with the "black-boxed" Heading 1 style.

Use this "Classic Menu" Alt-key shortcut: Alt-O, N -> the "Classic Menu" equivalent of Format, Bullets and Numbering -> you will now see a GUI dialog with four tabs: Bulleted, Numbered, Outline Numbered, List Styles -> select the List Styles tab.

The List styles frame offers a selection 1/1.1/1.1.1, make this selection and click OK.

At this point, the Heading 1 text should no longer be "black-boxed" - you might need to adjust your margins and/or tabs, which you can do from the ruler, and then do a "Update Heading 1 to Match Selection".

Et voilà!

Once doing that, I was able to use the 'Define new Multilevel List...' wizard to modify the styles to my liking (note: I did not link any headers to the list levels, as that seemed to raise the ire of this nasty bug). I found that wizard in the 'Multilevel List' dropdown (within the Paragraph ribbon tab), having selected the List style added in the block-quoted text first.


After much experimenting in trying to fix this, I think it's linked to two things: Creating a numbered list using Word's built-in header styles/titles and then modifying that list (in my case, changing the indent spacing). For me, those two actions inevitably result in the black boxes.

Though I cannot cure a diseased document, I've learned how to avoid having it happen again.

Using a clean document (not a template) with functional heading styles, modify them to suit, then rename them something new. In other words, do not overwrite the built-in header names with your new formatting, but create new header names for your modified headers. After spending hours trying to get headers where I want them, only to get the black boxes of death, this preventive action is the best I can offer.

  1. Select a square.
  2. Change ITS font to SYMBOL.
  3. Now the relevant real number appears.
  4. Select this already-squared number and through the REPLACE path, find all the same squared numbers and replace it with its real counterpart number.
  5. Repeat find-replace process for each number and use REPLACE ALL.

I've found a solution but it may take a while to fix your doc. You need to get rid of multilevel numbering that you've done so far. To do so highlight the entire text and change its style to Normal. Then go to Define New Multilevel List and start level modification from the scratch. Worked for me. Good luck.

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