Bug 83071 - UI: User interface for outline numbering is confusing with possibilities offered both at Format>Paragraph ... Outline numbering and at Tools>Outline numbering
Summary: UI: User interface for outline numbering is confusing with possibilities offe...
Status: NEW
Alias: None
Product: LibreOffice
Classification: Unclassified
Component: Writer (show other bugs)
(earliest affected)
Inherited From OOo
Hardware: x86-64 (AMD64) All
: medium enhancement
Assignee: Not Assigned
Depends on: 62032
Blocks: Sidebar-Styles-Improvements Bullets-Numbering-Dialog Heading-Numbering
  Show dependency treegraph
Reported: 2014-08-25 19:06 UTC by Albrecht Müller
Modified: 2021-11-21 08:18 UTC (History)
8 users (show)

See Also:
Crash report or crash signature:

List Style window showing the Options tab. (35.82 KB, image/png)
2014-08-27 10:12 UTC, Albrecht Müller
ad 2) List Style window showing Outline tab. (31.56 KB, image/png)
2014-08-27 10:14 UTC, Albrecht Müller
ad 3) Proposal for changes in the List Style window. (35.73 KB, image/png)
2014-08-27 10:15 UTC, Albrecht Müller
ad 4) Paragraph Style window showing Outline & Numbering tab, controls enabled (36.27 KB, image/png)
2014-08-27 10:18 UTC, Albrecht Müller
ad 5) Paragraph Style window showing Outline & Numbering tab, controls disabled (35.91 KB, image/png)
2014-08-27 10:19 UTC, Albrecht Müller
ad 6) Example of help information (73.15 KB, image/png)
2014-08-27 10:20 UTC, Albrecht Müller
ad 7) The outline numbering window that should have been used. (38.01 KB, image/png)
2014-08-27 10:21 UTC, Albrecht Müller
ad 8) Proposal: Add a button in the Styles & Formatting window (19.29 KB, image/png)
2014-08-27 10:24 UTC, Albrecht Müller
ad 9) Proposal: Add a button in Outline & Numbering tab of the Paragraph Style window (38.20 KB, image/png)
2014-08-27 10:26 UTC, Albrecht Müller

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Description Albrecht Müller 2014-08-25 19:06:24 UTC
For someone that is not familiar with the user interface for outline numbering it can be very hard to find out how to achieve this common task. What you can do is:

Define some paragraph styles that you want to use as outline headers using the F11 --> Paragraph Styles. Using the “Outline & Numbering” tab you can define an outline level and a suitable numbering style. Unfortunately this does not work as expected: It defines a list style for this paragraph which is independent of the outline level. Of course you can modify the list level such that it corresponds to the outline level using the tab key while the cursor is at the start of a paragraph – but this is not the idea behind the outline level. 

This behaviour suggests that the outline level does not work. The problem is that there is no hint that you are at the wrong way, that you cannot define the outline numbering using the “Styles and Formatting” user interface and that you have to go to Tools --> Outline Numbering to achieve your goals.

You may run into predefined outline headers. What you see in the “Outline & Numbering” tab is that you cannot change neither the outline level nor the corresponding style for no obvious reason.

It is not at all obvious how the “Numbering Style” dialogue works as there is no continuous feedback that tells the user how the result looks like. It is not clear that the elements shown in the “Bullets”, “Numbering Style”, “Outline” and “Image” tabs are in fact buttons, and pressing the button changes the style. If some area is marked this does not indicate how the list style looks like  - it merely indicates that the button is selected. Pressing the button does not have any visible effect except moving the focus to the button. The actual effect on the style can be seen only after switching to the “Position” or “Options” tabs. It is also unclear why these tabs use different ways to visualise the effects of the style, and why these visualisations sometimes differ.

Expected behaviour:

a) It should be possible to find the “Outline Numbering” style in the “Styles and Formatting” dialogue. Maybe an additional button in the top part of this dialogue could help. It should open the dialogue that can be found under “Tools --> Outline Numbering”.

b) The “Numbering Style” dialogue should always show the visualisation of the current resulting style. For this purpose the two different visualization used in the “Position” and “Option” tags should be unified into one common representation that is visible outside the tabbed area.

c) The “Outline & Numbering” tab in the “Paragraph Style” dialogue should contain some hint to the “Tools --> Outline Numbering” dialogue. This could reduce the risk to confuse the functionality between “List Styles” and “Outline Numbering” and would be helpful especially in cases when this dialogue does not allow to change the outline level and/or the list style.

Observed with LibreOffice version and Windows 7.
Comment 1 Cor Nouws 2014-08-25 21:38:25 UTC
Hi Albrecht,

thanks for reporting.
I understand you 'pain' and problem.

F1 > Search for Outline / chapter does give clear guidance.

And the other way round: one knowing Writer and incidentally confronted with that other application, will find himself stuck too..

So .. I don't know.. Indeed maybe a visual hint??
Comment 2 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:12:14 UTC
Created attachment 105319 [details]
List Style window showing the Options tab.
Comment 3 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:14:20 UTC
Created attachment 105320 [details]
ad 2) List Style window showing Outline tab.
Comment 4 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:15:30 UTC
Created attachment 105321 [details]
ad 3) Proposal for changes in the List Style window.
Comment 5 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:18:31 UTC
Created attachment 105322 [details]
ad 4) Paragraph Style window showing Outline & Numbering tab, controls enabled
Comment 6 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:19:09 UTC
Created attachment 105323 [details]
ad 5) Paragraph Style window showing Outline & Numbering tab, controls disabled
Comment 7 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:20:36 UTC
Created attachment 105324 [details]
ad 6) Example of help information
Comment 8 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:21:49 UTC
Created attachment 105325 [details]
ad 7) The outline numbering window that should have been used.
Comment 9 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:24:49 UTC
Created attachment 105326 [details]
ad 8) Proposal: Add a button in the Styles & Formatting window
Comment 10 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:26:18 UTC
Created attachment 105327 [details]
ad 9) Proposal: Add a button in Outline & Numbering tab of the Paragraph Style window
Comment 11 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 10:38:36 UTC
I tried to give a few visual hints in the attachments, note there is an attachment for each point to illustrate it.

Assumption: If you want to change any style or formatting, you can do this using the Styles and Formatting window. If you think that is true you are lost: You cannot handle the important special case of outline numbering this way. Not knowing this exception you may try the following:

1) Define a list style that reflects the outline numbering.

2) Be careful, you may ruin your carefully designed list style just by pressing a cursor movement key in some other tab. No clicking necessary! So another rule of thumb - using the cursor keys just moves the focus and does not change anything - does not work. You may not even notice the changes you did as you will not see what the actual style looks like unless you go to the "Position" or "Options" tab. There are various markers in the different tabs so it is not clear what their meaning is.

3) Proposal: The Numbering Style window should always show how the style looks like. For this purpose a combination of the visualisations used in the "Position" and "Options" tabs is moved outside of the tabbed area into a new "Preview" part.

4) Now you have a numbering style and you can use this style to define the paragraph styles for your headings. The "Outline & Numbering" tab seems to be the right place to do this. Looks good, you get your headlines numbered, but not in the way you expected. This mechanisms seems to be completely broken, e.g. the numbering does not care about the outline level.

5) Occasionally you may encounter an outline style that works. But how do you change the numbering as the relevant controls are disabled?

6) You can try the help button. The kind of information you get is not really useful. So far there was no hint that there is something special about outline numbering. What you experience is just a broken functionality and broken help information. So how could you get the idea to search for "outline" in the help function?

7) The problem is that there is no hint to the tool you should use to get the outline numbered. Btw: Why does the outline numbering tool use the caption “Character”?

8) Therefore it would be helpful to place an additional button in the "Styles and Formatting" window that opens the right window.

9) The "Outline & Numbering" tab should also contain a button with the same functionality.

I consider the proposals given above just as some crude workarounds that could improve the user interface with modest implementation effort.

Just a remark to "that other application": An office suite is very complex piece of software, and I think there is not a single person that is really familiar with each and every part of it, be it LibreOffice or "that other application". From time to time, you will therefore visit areas of the application that are unknown to you. In these cases the way how the user interface guides you through the unknown areas can make a difference of many hours of work. So problems in the user interface can be very expensive if working time has monetary value. That is why I consider this kind of problems very important.

Now that I think I understand how the outline numbering works, I can try to find out why LibreOffice treats some, but not all header styles as plain text when it imports a rtf file while a very old version of MS word is able to interpret the formats correctly. I fear I will not be able to produce a bug report about this: I am not sure if I will be able to reproduce the problem in a way suitable for a bug report. Maybe Writer behaves as intended, as there is some switch "treat outline levels 3 and 4 as default style" which I inadvertently turned on a year ago, and I just did not yet find the checkbox to disable it :-( 

PS: I had this text in WordPad and wanted to run the spelling checker of LibreOffice. Simple idea: Open LibreOffice Writer with an empty document, set language “For all Text” to “English (UK)” and copy the text from WordPad into the empty Writer document. Result is: I see a single line of text in a header line at the top of the page. Ok, I can use Edit --> Paste special --> Unformatted text and I get what I want. So I do not bother writing a bug report about this. A user that is not aware that there is something like "Paste special" may loose quite some time trying to figure out how to get this work done.
Comment 12 Cor Nouws 2014-08-27 13:03:35 UTC
thanks :)
Pls note, in some situations you need different outline-styles (e.g. the default Tools > Outline numbering + one handled via the Outline tab of a paragraph style).
Ergo: there is not just one outline style.
Comment 13 Cor Nouws 2014-08-27 13:04:30 UTC
(In reply to comment #11)
> Btw: Why does the outline numbering tool use the
> caption “Character”?

A bug, definitely.
Comment 14 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-27 15:28:38 UTC
(In reply to comment #12)
> thanks :)
> Pls note, in some situations you need different outline-styles (e.g. the
> default Tools > Outline numbering + one handled via the Outline tab of a
> paragraph style).
> Ergo: there is not just one outline style.

It is clear to me that there is more than one outline style. But there are two different categories, and the proposed additional button in the "Styles and Formatting" is intended to reflect this. My current understanding is:

a) The first category is the outline style you define by Tools -> Outline Numbering. There is only one style in this category, and this is not a kind of default style for category b). This is the only style that is bound to the outline levels that are used to structure a document and which are the basis for creating the table of contents. You can specify this level in the "Outline & Numbering" tab of the "Paragraph Style" window, provided that you do not include this paragraph style into outline numbering. In this case you cannot use the "Styles and Formatting" mechanism as the necessary controls in the "Outline & Numbering" tab are disabled. You can have no more than one paragraph style per outline level. This mechanism serves to structure a document and makes sure that the document uses a single common outline style, that headings at the same outline level use the same paragraph style etc.

b) It is possible to define an arbitrary number of list styles. Every list style is also an outline style. That is why I think the proposed common style preview makes sense. List styles use an outline level that is independent of the level you specify in the "Outline & Numbering" tab. In many cases only the first level is used. Therefore the fact that the list style is actually an outline style is not apparent. You change the relevant outline level using the tab or shift tab keys when the cursor is at the start of the paragraph. This kind of outline level is not relevant for the table of contents. It is used for various structured and unstructured lists within a document, but not for structuring the document itself.

Note: Every paragraph can have up to two independent outline levels, one for each category.
Comment 15 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-28 18:58:12 UTC
Another source for confusion are the various bugs in outline handling. When I see some behaviour I do not understand, it is hard for me to distinguish between intended behaviour and a bugs.

Analysing bug 68590 I found a situation I did not encounter before: In the "Outline & Numbering" tab the "Outline Level" control is disabled, but not the "Numbering Style" control. Look, what happens when you try to insert a table of contents (include all levels!)

Importing rtf documents with outline information also gives strange effects. In the example I created for bug 83204 all headers loose their outline information. In real life examples they may loose this information for certain outline levels only (in my case level 2 and 3 were affected). 

So I feel it is pretty hard to understand the concepts behind outline numbering.
Comment 16 Cor Nouws 2014-08-28 20:13:02 UTC
Hi Albrecht,

First my apologies that I - though I did ask some questions - fail to confirm the issue and set to new. I lack the time to _seriously_ (with all knowledge and options around this area) comment and handle. 
So I have to leave it to others..

(In reply to comment #15)
> ..
> So I feel it is pretty hard to understand the concepts behind outline
> numbering.

Understanding some of your concerns/problems, I do not understand this.
Use Heading 1, Heading 2 etc. etc, in the document and set the desired numbering for the various levels in Tools > Outline numbering.
Then Insert > Index and Tables > Index... for the TOC.
Covers 95%+ of cases, AFAIAA.

Comment 17 Cor Nouws 2014-08-28 20:16:52 UTC
Maybe it's an idea to change the summary from
  User interface for outline numbering is confusing
  User interface for outline numbering is confusing with possibilities offered both at Format>Paragraph ... Outline numbering and at Tools>Outline numbering
Comment 18 Albrecht Müller 2014-08-31 19:44:32 UTC
Hi Cor,

You may be right when you assume that in 95%+ of cases the concepts of outline numbering don't cause any problems. You can go the way you describe, get what you want, and don't have to worry about the concepts of outline numbering.

The story behind this error report may clarify things: I had a RTF report generated from an UML tool and tried to use LibreOffice to print it. I also wanted to fix a few things that the tool does not handle smoothly: Get the header lines numbered, insert a table of contents, reformat some pictures, make sure that some individual pages are printed at odd page numbers and other common stuff. So I thought I am pretty well in this 95%+ comfort zone.

I spent about a week trying to get this paper copy, analysed why things did not work as expected, read and created bug reports. Then I gave up, activated an old Word 97 installation on an old machine, and got my document printed within a couple of hours. So after I lost a lot of time the only solution I know of is: Use the Microsoft tool. Case closed.

What went wrong?

- Maybe it is not possible to use LibreOffice to handle my report for the simple reason that it does not support the necessary RTF format. I was not aware that this might be a problem until I created bug 83204 and noticed Word 2010 reporting the use of a "compatibility mode" when it opened the test example. As LibreOffice did not report any problems with the file format, I tried to find out for what reason some of the headers were plain text while others had the correct header format. So the RTF import should provide information that helps to answer my questions that are still open: Does LibreOffice support the RTF format I need or not? If the format is supported, is there a bug in the RTF import or is the effect I observed a consequence of some concept I do not understand yet?

- I was not aware that this Outline Numbering tool exists. Therefore I started pressing F11 to get the Styles and Formatting window. Here you seem to get all what you need to define the outline style: Paragraph formats for headers, outline levels, and list styles containing outline formats. I needed some time to understand how the Numbering Style dialogue works, and when I finally was able to create the style I realized that it did not work as expected. I did not get a hint from the user interface that I might be on the wrong track. Therefore I considered the observed behaviour as an error. Only after I somehow stumbled over the Outline Numbering tool I could correct my wrong idea of the concepts behind the numbering. That's why I proposed the additional buttons that lead to the Outline Numbering tool.

- Of course I tried to find help information by pressing the corresponding help buttons in the windows I used but did not get any useful information.

On a second thought I would say I feel it is pretty hard to develop a correct idea of how outline numbering works if you happen to start from the wrong place. I don't think changing the summary is a good idea as it suggests that this problem can be solved on a bug by bug basis. In short, I see the root of the problem in the interaction of:
- Problems in the user interface (missing feedback, access to functionality not at expected locations, "Outline" denotes different things in the Outline Numbering tool and in the Numbering Style window, etc.),
- Missing help information and
- Plain bugs.

Solving this problem requires activities in different areas like RTF import, harmonizing various parts of the user interface, writing and translating help information, etc. I fear that fixing all these things requires more resources that are available to this project and I therefore will not see this problem solved any time soon.

I know of some failed attempts of municipal authorities to switch to Linux and a corresponding office software. In Munich where such a project succeeded there is now a discussion about switching back to Microsoft products. I guess that problems like the one I described here are an important cause of these failures and the current discussion despite the fact that they may be in the 5%- part of cases.


Comment 19 Albrecht Müller 2014-09-01 21:10:23 UTC
Created separate bug reports for different issues addressed in this report. Made this bug depend on some related reports: bugs that contibute to or are caused by the confusion; or proposals about improvements. Added META tag to indicate the idea of collecting this kind of problems at a single place.
Comment 20 Cor Nouws 2014-11-13 10:58:02 UTC
I agree that some improvement is needed. Failing time atm to dive in details, except my comment in bug 83369

So set to NEEDINFO as to find out details .. ;)
Comment 21 Owen Genat (retired) 2015-03-13 01:42:19 UTC
As I have commented in bug 62032 the use of the term "outline" in relation to lists and when editing paragraph styles is the essence of the problem and needs to be dispensed with. Outline numbering and list numbering are two separate methods (intended for different purposes) as indicated in this old OOo forum thread:


I disagree entirely with the proposed solution herein. I cannot see how it would be compatible with the ODF/OOXML specifications.
Comment 22 QA Administrators 2015-12-27 20:31:55 UTC Comment hidden (obsolete)
Comment 23 QA Administrators 2016-05-09 20:08:50 UTC Comment hidden (obsolete)
Comment 24 Cor Nouws 2016-05-10 08:25:42 UTC
reopening - I think the topic is clear and enough ideas for possible improvements. Just needs some love. Maybe when dust around changing heading styles/indents has settled down ;)
Comment 25 Cor Nouws 2016-05-10 08:26:05 UTC
setting to new
Comment 26 Regina Henschel 2017-05-09 15:20:41 UTC
Not only the UI is confusing, but the file format too. I try to get some ideas from the OASIS TC https://lists.oasis-open.org/archives/office/201705/msg00002.html
Comment 27 Albrecht Müller 2017-06-30 16:29:10 UTC
Use case example:
Goal: Some documents (generated by an UML tool) should get a common layout. 

Idea: Open one of the documents, edit templates (F11), save it. Open each of the other documents and copy these styles (Styles -> Load Styles -> From File ...) from the first document. 

Result: Worked for me except that the other documents did not show chapter numbers.

Analysis of the Problem: Open the document that shows chapter numbers and another that does not. Select two corresponding heading lines in both documents and open the paragraph style heading dialog boxes to compare settings. Writer did not like the idea of two open dialog boxes and crashed. I did not bother trying to reproduce the problem (http://crashreport.libreoffice.org/stats/crash_details/704e54e4-4a9d-4c4b-8210-b30dc03ea4e1), so I cannot describe the exact circumstances that led to the crash. After some searching for differences I realized that I will not find any as outline numbering is something not covered by paragraph styles.

Solution: As I did not find a way to copy the outline numbering options I opened each document and entered the outline options level by level. No way to automate this: The macro recorder did  not save the data I entered.  I tried to find a direct access to the necessary functionality in the com.sun.star hierarchy. This was too time consuming and I gave up. :-(  

Observed with Version:, Build ID: e80a0e0fd1875e1696614d24c32df0f95f03deb2

Of course this example should be split up into the following bug reports:
-  A second open style dialog on different documents blocks the first one
- Description of a crash report (maybe related to two open style dialogs)
- Macro recorder does not record settings entered into outline numbering dialog
- Did not find a way to copy the outline numbering settings (maybe there is a way to do this but I was not able to find it)
- Load styles should have an option to include the settings of outline numbering.
- Poor documentation (Source code in crash report, com.sun.star interfaces etc.)
- User interface language does not affect the pop-up window in the Styles and Formatting dialog (I switched the User Interface to English but the pop-up remains in German and shows "Neu..., Ändern..., Verbergen"
Comment 28 Regina Henschel 2017-06-30 17:30:21 UTC
(In reply to Albrecht Müller from comment #27)
> Use case example:
> Goal: Some documents (generated by an UML tool) should get a common layout. 
> Idea: Open one of the documents, edit templates (F11), save it. Open each of
> the other documents and copy these styles (Styles -> Load Styles -> From
> File ...) from the first document. 
> Result: Worked for me except that the other documents did not show chapter
> numbers.

[The UI is confusing :( ]

How it works: Open Tool > Outline (LO 6: Chapter) numbering. Make all your settings. Click on button "Format". It has the item "Save as". Enter a name for this chapter numbering. You will get a file "chapter.cfg" in your user directory in subfolder "config". For the other document go to Open Tool > Outline numbering as click on button "Format". You should see an item with your naming. Click it. That will transfer the outline-level-style to the other document.

I don't know, why this had been labeled "Format".

The file chapter.cfg is transportable, in case you have two different user directories.

The file chapter.cfg contains the node "<text:outline-style>" which is located in the folder styles.xml in a packed odt document file. It does not contain, which paragraph style is set on each level.

I don't know, whether these steps can be done by a macro.
Comment 29 Albrecht Müller 2017-07-05 17:54:50 UTC
(In reply to Regina Henschel from comment #28)

Thank you for the explanation. I hope I will remember it when I need it next time - maybe next year. This can save me the work to set all the outline formats individually but still requires two operations per file: Importing styles and selecting outline formats.

I noticed the "Format" button only after I had finished my work. It was not immediately clear how this works: There is a "save as" option but no corresponding "load" option. So I did not invest additional time trying to find out how this mechanism works.

I assume that this process could be automated using the UNO interface. Unfortunately I did not find good documentation and/or tools that allowed me to locate the necessary objects and methods within some reasonable time span.

> [The UI is confusing :( ]

The following is based on my incomplete understanding of the mechanisms, so I may be wrong.

An important source of confusion is the fact that there are two ways of attaching numbers to paragraphs: Outline numbering and list styles. From a practical point of view the main difference between the two is that the former will appear in the table of content and the latter will not. But they are implemented as two independent features with separate user interfaces and storage mechanisms. The user interface tries to make sure that each paragraph uses at most one of these mechanisms. This leads to strange interactions, e.g. you can use the button "Toggle Numbered List (F12)" on some paragraph that participates in outline numbering. This seems to copy the content of the numbering style into the corresponding level of the outline numbering format. You may be tempted to define two different list styles, one for the main text and one for the appendix and to apply them to headings. I guess this will not work because the list styles will be mapped to outline numbering which does not support two different styles for the same outline level.
Comment 30 Albrecht Müller 2017-07-05 18:10:43 UTC Comment hidden (off-topic)
Comment 31 Heiko Tietze 2017-07-06 07:54:31 UTC Comment hidden (off-topic)
Comment 32 Xisco Faulí 2020-03-09 13:29:11 UTC
Please add keyword 'needsUXEval' and CC 'libreoffice-ux-advise@lists.freedesktop.org' if input from UX is needed.