Word: Change caption numbering from sequential to chapter numbering

March 31, 2014


  • You have a Word document that uses outline numbering for each chapter/section heading (e.g. 1.1, 1.2, 2.4.3 etc.).
  • You have table and figure captions in this document that are numbered in two long sequences — one for tables, one for figures (e.g. Table 1 through 53; Figure 1 through 26).
  • You want to convert the caption number sequences from a single number sequence to a separate sequence in each chapter/section (e.g. Table 3.2 for the second table in chapter 3).
  • You want to do this because your document is long and readers can’t easily find the tables/figures they want as numbers like Table 34 are meaningless unless you find the table captions before/after ‘Table 34’. By changing the numbering sequence to include the chapter numbers, your readers will have guideposts to aid their search — if they are in Section 5, they will know that Table 3.2 is back in Section 3 and is the second table in that section.
  • Ultimately, you want to help your readers find the information they want as quickly as possible.


This set of steps ONLY works if you use automated outline numbering for your heading styles. This post does not describe how to set that up (instead see the links in this post: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/word-2007-outline-numbering/).


There are three main steps in this procedure — updating the table and figure caption numbering, then updating any cross-references that refer to these tables (including any List of Tables of List of Figures you’ve inserted).

Step 1: Update the caption numbering for tables

  1. Place your cursor in front of ANY automated caption number for ANY table.
  2. Go to the References tab and click Insert Caption to open the Caption dialog box.
  3. Change the Label to Table.
  4. Click Numbering to open the Caption Numbering dialog box.
  5. Select the Include Chapter Numbering check box.
  6. Optional: Change the Separator. It’s unlikely you’ll need to change the Format or the Style, so leave those as they are.
  7. Click OK to close the Caption Numbering dialog box. Doing this automatically updates ALL table caption numbers in the document.
  8. Click Close to close the Caption dialog box.

Step 2: Update the caption numbering for figures

  1. Place your cursor in front of ANY automated caption number for ANY figure.
  2. Go to the References tab and click Insert Caption to open the Caption dialog box.
  3. Change the Label to Figure.
  4. Click Numbering to open the Caption Numbering dialog box.
  5. Select the Include Chapter Numbering check box.
  6. Optional: Change the Separator. It’s unlikely you’ll need to change the Format or the Style, so leave those as they are.
  7. Click OK to close the Caption Numbering dialog box. Doing this automatically updates ALL figure caption numbers in the document.
  8. Click Close to close the Caption dialog box.

Step 3: Update all the cross-references to the figures and tables throughout the document

  1. Press Ctrl+A to select the entire document.
  2. Right-click and select Update Field.
  3. If you’re asked about updating the Table of Contents, select Update entire table, then click OK.
  4. If you’re asked about updating the Table of Figures, select Update entire table, then click OK. You might be asked about this twice if you have both a list of tables and a list of figures.

When finished, all your cross-references should now reflect the new numbering sequences. NOTE: Sometimes you have to repeat these steps and update a second time to get them to all update correctly.


See also:

[Links last checked March 2014]


  1. Yet another awesomely helpful tip — thanks, Rhonda!
    Love, Jeanne

  2. Hi, is there any chance to put chapter number in the caption byt in different style? For example, chapter number in roman style (I, II, III) but I want to put arabic style in the caption (2.1, 2.3, etc).
    Hope you can help. Thanks.

  3. Hi jkalther

    I don’t think so. I tried adding \* roman to the field code for the chapter level in the caption, but that made no difference. I suggest you search the Microsoft Word forum: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum/word.


  4. Wow, I am super stunned to find such helpful information at my fingertips – thank you!

  5. Hello. Is there any way to have sequential chapter numbering for more than one chapter/level? For example, I would like to show Table 3-2 in Chapter 3, as well as Table 3.2.1-1 in Section 3.2.1.

  6. Thanks very useful

  7. Thankyou, I was pulling my hair out after my figures changed number format after I had written the majority of my paper, leaving the refferences in the text and the lables on the figures completely different. This simple tip saved the day!

  8. Thank you very much

  9. I’m adding an Executive Summary to the beginning of my document — how do I get the tables to label ES-1, ES-2, etc. without an error on the tables in the rest of my document?

  10. Hi L

    You could set up a new label (‘ES’) on the Caption dialog box and use that for your ES tables. You’d also have to add a new List of Tables to your document, selecting ‘ES’ from the ‘Caption Label’ list. However, if you just use ‘ES’, then you would only have one sequence for both figs and tables in the Exec Summary. If you needed two separate sequences, then I suggest you create two labels — ‘ES Table’ and ‘ES Figure’.

    Note: If you want a hyphen, add it to the label name; e.g. ES- or ES Table- or ES Figure-.

    Let us know if that works for you.


  11. Hi Rhona,
    I have a similar question about numbering – but a bit more complicated. U want to convert the caption number sequences from a single number sequence to reflect the heading that the table/figure is sitting under. For example, if it’s sitting under heading 6.2, the first table or figure would be Table/Figure 6.2 a, then 6.2 b and so on, until after the next heading, where they would start again – 6.3 a and so on. How do I do that?!!

  12. Hi Maz

    I don’t think there’s any way you can do that via the Word interface options. Perhaps a VBA programmer might be able to help, but that’s out of my league.


  13. Dear Rhonda,

    I also have a question that is similar but Im not entirely sure its possible.
    I have to name my appendices with a code that reflects both the paragraph number that the appendix belongs to and the appendices need to be numbered sequential as well.
    (of course, i already prepared a new label, “Appendices”.

    For example
    Paragraph A1 has two appendices, called A1-1 and A1-2 (so far so good, this already works)
    But now i come to paragraph B1 and when using the method described, the numbering is reset and it starts again at B1-1 (where I would like to see B1-3 (sequential in the last part)

  14. Hi Thecis

    I tried various switches for the SEQ field underlying the numbering, but nothing did what you want.

    Try asking your question on the Microsoft Word forum: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum/word


  15. Hi Rhonda,

    Thanks for your answer. I couldnt let it go so I tried some other things as well. And I managed it :-)

    When using the standard solution (which resets) Word uses the following commands:
    { STYLEREF 1 \s }-{ SEQ Appendix \* ARABIC \s 1 }

    since the \s is a reset parameter, i tried to remove it (I conveniently dont mention all my other attempts ;-) ) and the following fields worked!

    { STYLEREF 1 \s }-{ SEQ Appendix \* ARABIC }

    Now Im still struggling a bit to make this field an automatic one (in a macro) and that I also can make an index of the appendices (this is most likely the easy part but if you can offer some help, it would be much appreciated.

  16. Hi Rhonda,

    I must be a bit more specific.
    I use this as a caption, but have to manually remove the \s 1 all the time. For me that no problems but some of my analogue collegues have more difficulty with it…

    For something that happens to me also (quite a few times) is that when I enter a caption, the whole paragraph is turned into the caption. This is particularly annoying when making a reference… (when you only use the number, the whole paragraph is still used). Is there a way to fix this?

    Your help is really appreciated.

    Kind regards,

  17. Well done! I tried various switches, but none worked. I didn’t think to remove the switch altogether like you did ;-)

    As far as adding your appendices to your TOC, as long as they use a unique style, you can add them. See the section on ‘Add or remove a level from a TOC’ in this blog post: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/word-2007-create-an-automatic-table-of-contents/


  18. Hi Thecis

    Some of these might help (without seeing the document, I’m only taking a stab at what’s causing your issue):
    * https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/12/22/word-bookmark-cross-reference-formatting/
    * https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/word-remove-formatting-from-cross-references/
    * https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/word-unbolded-caption-numbers/


  19. Dear Rhonda,

    I wont get it to work with the caption and reference. Is there a possibility to look at the document to see if you see what I mean?
    I can’t send you the original one since these are confidential files but I can make an example which has the same problems (which could mean something is wrong with my normal.dot file.

    Please let me know. Im beginning to get desperate ;-)

    Kind regards,

  20. I’d like to use my own styles for headings in my Word document. Let’s say- style hdn1 instead of Heading1, and hdn2 instead of Heading2. I know how to create new multilevel list for heading numbers, linking levels to my own styles hdn1, hdn2…. (By the way- why multilevel lists are not accessible for styles formatting through Modify-Format-Numbering like it was in Word2003?)
    Is it possible to include Chapter number into Table (Figure) number? Insert Caption – Numbering offers only styles Heading1, Heading2 and so on.

    I’m sorry if my English isn’t quite correct- it isn’t my native language.

  21. Hi, Maz
    I just read your comment from June 26. May be I don’t understand your problem quite correctly, but I think you should go to Insert Caption-Numbering, set number Format to a, b, c,… and set Heading2 in Chapter starts with style. The only problem that Separator must be some symbol; there isn’t an option “space”.

  22. Hi Fledis

    Your English is fine!!!

    In answer to your first question, I don’t believe there’s any way to add your own heading names to the list of Chapter heading options in the Caption numbering dialog box. I tried creating a new heading style and setting it to Level 1 (on the Paragraph dialog box), but it didn’t put it into the list. That’s all I could think of that might set it, but it didn’t work.

    And in your response to Maz, ‘space’ is not an option for a caption number separator.


  23. Thanks, Rhonda!
    Now at least I can tell my students not to create their own styles- it doesn’t work :)

  24. Thanks so much!! your graphical representation corrected my error in 2 minutes!

  25. when I assign a heading level to a figure, all the other figures at different heading levels change to the level I assigned the new figure. ie, I have a figure under chapter heading level 3, then I have a figure in the next section under chapter heading level 1. When I select chapter heading numbering for header 1, all the other figures in my document go to that level instead of maintaining their specific level…help?

  26. Hi Janet

    If I’m reading your question correctly, you want to assign various heading levels to the captions, right? As far as I know, you can’t do that in Word — you can only assign SINGLE heading level for automated caption numbering, whether that’s H1, H2, H3 etc.


  27. Hello,

    I like to make TOC with numbering like this 2-1-9, where first place (no.2) is heading1, second place (no.1) and third place (no.9) is page number. Please for help.


  28. Hi Niko

    As far as I am aware you can’t do anything like that in Word.


  29. Hi,

    I’m trying to change the formatting of my figure captions from Figure 1 to Figure 1.1 or similar. However, after including section number all the cross references in the text give error missing …

    Any idea why is this happening and how to solve it? I’m using Word 2007 x64.

  30. Hi Akos

    You may have to run Step 3 (update all fields) twice. The first time typically sorts out the caption numbers and the second time sorts out the cross-references.


  31. Hi Rhonda,

    Thank you for your help.

    I have tried to update all fields but it still brakes all my cross refs. I have checked where e.g. `Table 1` crossref points when the caption of the table is already `Table 1-1` and it drops me to the beginning of the document.

    Is there anything you could think of solve this issue with the hyperlinks of the crossreferences?



  32. Hi again Akos

    I’ve sent you an email…


  33. Hi! Not sure if you’ll check this post any time soon, but I’ll give it a shot: do you have any clue on how we can make a Table of Figures (or Table of Tables) that lists these under their respective headings? I mean: Chapter 1 and then the Figures in Chapter 1 below; Chapter 2 and then the Figures in Chapter 2; etc.
    should be possible but I can’t figure it out (no pun intended, it’s really driving me a bit crazy!)
    Thanks a lot, best, MJ

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