If you create long Word documents with lots of captioned diagrams, tables, or figures in them, then you may be faced with the nightmare of having to update the numbering whenever you add a new figure or table to the document. And if you refer to this number within the text (e.g. “See Table 4”), that’s another place you have to remember to keep up to date.
You can automate this process—and produce automated Tables of Figures as well, just like an automated Table of Contents.
These instructions apply to any captioned tables, figures and diagrams. I will use ‘figure’ to refer to each of them.
Labeling a figure in Word
- Position your cursor beneath the figure.
- Open the Caption window:
* Word 2003: Select Insert > Reference > Caption from the menu.
* Word 2007: Go to the References tab > Captions command group, then click Insert Caption.
- Select Figure from the Label drop-down list.
Caption – default settings for Figure
- Optional: If you use headings with Outline Numbering, you may want to add a Chapter number. To do so, click Numbering and select the Include chapter numbercheck box. You can also specify the number format, style, and separator.
Caption with chapter numbering included
Caption settings for chapter numbering
- Add any extra caption information after the caption number (e.g. Figure 3: xxxx).
- Click OK.
The caption is added, using the Caption style (you can modify this default style on the Styles and Formatting task pane in Word 2003, or the Styles floating window in Word 2007). The number is automatically sequenced even if you add another figure between two existing figures with captions inserted like this.
NOTE: If the number doesn’t update automatically, or if you’ve copied an earlier caption and pasted it in another place then modified the caption’s text, update the field by selecting it and pressing F9. Update ALL the auto captions [and all other fields such as the TOC, List of Figures etc.] by pressing Ctrl+A, then F9.
Referring to a figure in the body text
The caption must exist (see above)—you can’t reference something that isn’t there.
- In the body text, place the cursor when you want the cross-reference text to be inserted.
- To insert a cross reference:
* Word 2003: Select Insert > Reference > Cross-Reference from the menu.
* Word 2007/2010: Go to the References tab > Captions command group, then click Cross-reference.
- Select Figure from the Reference Type drop-down list. All figures that have been inserted as a caption are listed in the bottom half.
- Click once on the figure that you want to refer to.
- In the Insert reference to drop-down list, select how you want the information displayed (e.g. select Only label and number to just display “Figure x” and not the entire caption; select Entire caption to display “Figure x: yyyyyy”).
- Click Insert, then click Close. The reference is added to the document—if you click in it, you should notice the gray shading indicating that it’s a field.
The cross-reference is inserted as a field
Creating the Table of Figures
- Position the cursor where you want the Table of Figures to be placed (it usually goes immediately after the Table of Contents).
- Insert the Table of Figures:
* Word 2003: Select Insert > Reference > Index and Tables from the menu.
* Word 2007/2010: Go to the References tab > Captions command group, then click Insert Table of Figures.
- Click on the Table of Figures tab, if it’s not already selected.
- From the Caption Label drop-down list, select the type of table you want to create—Figure in this example.
Table of Figures settings
- Make any other changes as required.
- Click OK.
- Add a title (e.g. List of Figures) above the list just like you do for Contents.
A table of figures
Update February 2012: Really long captions: Several people have asked questions in the comments about dealing with really long captions, and there have been some excellent suggestions. Take a look at the comments from March 29, 2010, June/July 2011, and especially August 8, 2011 — one of these may solve your problem.
[This article was first published in the March 2003 CyberText Newsletter; steps last checked and updated for Word 2007, 21 August 2008; screen shots added February 2009]