Paragraph or line numbers? Tips for citation in computer-assisted qualitative analysis

Whether you use paragraph or line numbers, numbering a text helps in two ways. On the one hand, it makes it possible to clearly cite references in the results report. In this way, one can transparently substantiate one’s own results.

On the other hand, numbering also helps in communicating about the text if you are working in a team: “Look at paragraph 5, that’s exciting …”.

Very roughly, paragraph numbering is often used for content-analytical work, while reconstructive procedures tend to use line numbering.

Precision vs. unambiguity

Line numbers have the advantage that they are much more precise. This is why they are often used in procedures that analyze at the word level. The use of paragraph numbers originated in the context of computer-aided analysis. However, depending on the screen size, lines are wrapped differently. So if you look at the transcript on different sized screens, the whole text will shift and so will the numbering. If you were to technically prevent wrapping, there might be long lines that are not completely displayed on some screens.

Paragraph numbering avoids this problem, since paragraphs always remain unique, regardless of the line break. This makes paragraph numbering a little less precise, but when working on computers, it is essential for reliable source citation.


When using analysis software such as f4analysis, it is common to work with paragraph numbers. These are inserted automatically by the programs and need not be included in the transcript.

However, for long narrative interviews or passages, paragraphs should be inserted manually in the transcript. Otherwise, citations become very difficult to follow.

Paragraph numbers in Word

You can also create paragraph numbers in Word. Simply select the entire interview and click on the numbering icon. The appropriate paragraph numbers appear as numbering.

Line numbers can also be added later in Word. In Word you select the desired line number format in the menu command “Layout” (at least until Microsoft sorts the option somewhere else again …).

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