Digital transformation insights

How to Generate Numbered Headings and/or Lists in Ulysses

What’s Missing in Ulysses?

If you write long form pieces or complex manuscripts and you’re on Mac, it’s likely that Ulysses features heavily in your setup. Whilst it is powerful and has many nice features, it does lack two key features that tools like MS Word do have:

  • Outline Numbered Lists
  • Outline Numbered Headings

These two formatting features really do make complex or structured documents, especially technical or academic papers, a lot clearer and easily navigable.

Ulysses haven’t been forthcoming on updates to the app to improve complex numbering to achieve this:

1 1.1 1.1.1

Thus, my workflow before doing this mod, was to export my document to .docx and then complete my final list and headline formatting touches in MS Word, whose gravitational pull I have been fighting against for a number of years… Just like you I bet! Then recently I dug into the problem some more to see if I can come up with a fix until the feature exists natively in the editor. And a fix I did come up with.

What to expect from this modification

If you follow this process, you will be able to output beautiful HTML documents which include outline numbered headings and outline numbered lists, without changing a thing in the editing experience. This is a limited fix, as it works ONLY for the HTML output option, and not for Ulysses other output options like .pdf or .docx But… When you open your rendered HTML document, you can paste formatted content into MS Word neatly to get your .docx, publish the HTML source to the web, or print the document from the browser (using print to PDF) to get a neatly formatted PDF document. So there are just one or two final manual steps to get your document with outline numbered goodies. Here’s an example for this very post, written in Ulysses, exported to HTML and printed to PDF.

Here’s a theme I made earlier

I watched Blue Peter as youngster, so I’m just going to give you a copy of the exact theme I have created if you’re not fussed about the learning piece. Note that it features both outline numbered headings and outline numbered lists. CLICK TO DOWNLOAD MY MODIFIED THEME


For this modification project, you’re going to need:

  • Ulysses
  • A .ulstyle theme you want to modify to include either outline numbered headings or lists. I based mine on the excellent Medium Style theme by Leonardo. But you can use ANY non-native HTML theme. See all HTML Ulysses themes here or go directly to the Medium Style theme here . This is that theme renders:
  • A good plain text editor (I use and love BBEdit or Brackets ). You need the text editor to make changes to the theme’s CSS file within the .ulstyle file.
  • The CSS code snippets below:

    Outline Numbered Lists CSS Code

    This code means that you can indent a numbered list to produce beautifully nested and lists with incremental decimal point sub lists (1 becomes 1.1 becomes 1.1.1 etc as you tab -> a list item) ol { counter-reset: item }ol li{ display: block }ol li:before { content: counters(item, “.”) “ “; counter-increment: item }

Outline Numbered Headings CSS Code

This code will number headings from H2 - H6, it does not number H1 headings (which would more correctly be used as major titles in your documents rather than numbered sections). body { counter-reset: h2 }

        h2 {
            counter-reset: h3

        h3 {
            counter-reset: h4

        h4 {
            counter-reset: h5

        h5 {
            counter-reset: h6

        h2:before {
            counter-increment: h2;
            content: counter(h2) ". "

        h3:before {
            counter-increment: h3;
            content: counter(h2) "."counter(h3) ". "

        h4:before {
            counter-increment: h4;
            content: counter(h2) "."counter(h3) "."counter(h4) ". "

        h5:before {
            counter-increment: h5;
            content: counter(h2) "."counter(h3) "."counter(h4) "."counter(h5) ". "

        h6:before {
            counter-increment: h6;
            content: counter(h2) "."counter(h3) "."counter(h4) "."counter(h5) "."counter(h6) ". "

        h6.nocount:before {
            content: "";
            counter-increment: none

Step by step guide

  1. Create a test document: Grab the sample copy below if you need: # Test Doc ## Test doc Heading 2 ## Test doc another Heading 2 Test list
    1. With
    2. Parent
    3. Items, and
    4. Some (indent this)
    5. Child items (indent this)
    6. And another parent ### And a subheading Or come to think of it, ### Two subheadings
  2. Open style preference pane: Double click the .ulstyle file that you intend to modify. This will open the Ulysses > Preferences > Styles pane where you will see all of the themes you’ve added to Ulysses: This is where you see all themes available in Ulysses
  3. Open style file: Locate the style file you just downloaded. ctrl+Click it and click Edit in… and choose your Plain Text Editor: I edit .ulstyle files in BBEdit, but you can use whatever text editor you like
  4. Outline Numbered List: We could just dump the code snippets above anyway in the CSS file, but I like to insert the code snippets roughly near the CSS code for the elements they concern. So, navigate to Line 102. Copy and paste the first code snippet from above into that line: Paste the CSS snippet for outline numbered lists (or nested lists) - Outline numbered lists COMPLETE
  5. Outline Numbered Headings: Navigate back up the code to Line 72, this is just under all the heading styling and above blockquote {. Paste the second code snippet from above right there. - Outline numbered headings COMPLETE
  6. Save the file: Then exit your text browser.
  7. a. Check it worked: Preview your file hit + + P. Preview: Note that nothing changes in the *editing* experience. Preview: Note that nothing changes in the *editing* experience. Preview: Note that nothing changes in the *editing* experience.

  8. b. Flick between themes for fun: You should be able to flick between your styles in and see the effect of the numbering easily in the preview. Preview: Flick between the unmodified and modified theme Preview: Flick between the unmodified and modified theme

Edit: Cascading font-sizes for headings

Please note that the styling above adds numbering but no additional styling to headers. The code snippet below alters sizing incrementally as heading number increases: h1 {font-size:2.5em;} h2 {font-size:1.8em;} h3 {font-size:1.6em;} h4 {font-size:1.4em;} h5 {font-size:1.2em;} h6 {font-size:1.0em;}

Ideally you should find the current font sizes in each h class and delete them… but if you’re in a rush you can just paste this at the bottom of your CSS file… the last declared rule wins, so don’t paste it at the top! Then you’ll get something like this: —- I hope you found that little upgrade useful and that you enjoy your newly numbered Ulysses documents!