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Word: Assigning automated cross-references

August 8, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues. Warning: LONG! as there are different instructions for each type of cross-reference.

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In many of the Word documents you write, you may need to refer the reader to another section, an appendix, a table, or a figure, or numbered reference in a References list. You do this with a cross-reference (e.g. ‘see Table 5-2’). Although you can just type the cross-reference (x-ref), if you add more sections/tables/figures etc. or delete some, then some or all of your typed x-refs will be incorrect and take the reader to the wrong place.

The solution is to use automated x-refs.

That way, when you add/move/delete sections/tables/figures etc., you just need to update the fields in your document to automatically update the x-ref numbers to reflect the new numbering of these elements. The other advantage of automated x-refs is that they are clickable in the Word document (Ctrl+click) and sometimes in PDFs (depending on the Acrobat settings) – in both cases, clicking the link will take you straight to the place referred to.

Assumptions: All the instructions below assume you are working in a document that is based on a template that uses:

The instructions vary a little for each type of cross-reference—figure/table, section, appendix, numbered References list item. However, for each you will start with the References tab > Captions group > Cross-reference button:

x-ref_refs_tab

 

Insert an automated cross-reference to a figure or table

  1. Place your cursor in the text where you want to insert the cross-reference.
  2. Go to the References tab > Captions group, then click Cross-reference.
  3. In the Reference type field, click the drop-down arrow and select either Figure or Table (they’re at the bottom of the list).
  4. In the Insert reference to field, click the drop-down arrow and select Only label and number.
  5. Select the figure or table from the list in the lower half of the dialog box.
  6. Click Insert.

x-ref_fig-table

Insert an automated cross-reference to a section

  1. Place your cursor in the text where you want to insert the cross-reference.
  2. Type the word ‘Section’ and a space.
  3. Go to the References tab > Captions group, then click Cross-reference.
  4. In the Reference type field, click the drop-down arrow and select Heading.
  5. In the Insert reference to field, click the drop-down arrow and select Heading number (no context).
  6. Select the section from the list in the lower half of the dialog box. Hint: If it’s a long list, type the main section number – e.g. type 8 to take you straight to headings starting with ‘8’.
  7. Click Insert.

x-ref_section

 

Insert an automated cross-reference to an appendix

  1. Place your cursor in the text where you want to insert the cross-reference.
  2. Go to the References tab > Captions group, then click Cross-reference.
  3. In the Reference type field, click the drop-down arrow and select Numbered item (first in the list).
  4. In the Insert reference to field, click the drop-down arrow and select Paragraph number (no context).
  5. Select the appendix from the list in the lower half of the dialog box. Hint: Appendices are always listed at the END of the list, so you might have to scroll down a long way.
  6. Click Insert.

x-ref_appendix

 

Insert an automated cross-reference to an auto-numbered Reference list item in a citation

  1. Go to the References section, note its section number (e.g. 9.0), then identify the row number in the References list for the document you want to cite (e.g. row number 23).
  2. Place your cursor in the text where you want to insert the cross-reference.
  3. Type ‘(Ref. )’; make sure you add a non-breaking space (Ctrl+Shift+spacebar) after the full stop, then put your cursor after the space and before the closing parenthesis.
  4. Go to the References tab > Captions group, then click Cross-reference.
  5. In the Reference type field, click the drop-down arrow and select Numbered item (first in the list).
  6. In the Insert reference to field, click the drop-down arrow and select Paragraph number (no context).
  7. Go to the References section (e.g. 9.0)  in the lower half of the dialog box.
  8. Scroll down the list of numbers after the section number/heading and select the number of the row you identified in Step 1.
  9. Click Insert.

x-ref_citation

What happens to the x-ref numbers if I’ve added new tables/figures/sections etc.? How do I update them?

When you add a new section, table/figure, appendix etc. Word automatically applies the correct sequential number for where you’ve placed it. If you move an existing section or appendix, these heading numbers will change automatically too. But tables and figures and all the x-refs DON’T change their numbers until you update all the fields in your document.

Although there are several ways to update all the fields (and therefore the automated numbers), the quickest, simplest, and most foolproof way is to switch to Print Preview mode, then switch back—almost all your numbers automatically update:

  1. IMPORTANT: Make sure Track Changes is turned OFF. Weird things happen if track changes is on, including possibly losing your x-refs!
  2. Go to File > Print. The print preview of your document shows on the right.
  3. Go back to the Home All your fields are updated automatically.

That’s it!

However, this method doesn’t update your table of contents, list of tables, list of figures, etc.—you have to do those separately using the applicable Update Table buttons on the References tab, or use the method below.

To update EVERYTHING in your document at once:

  1. IMPORTANT: Make sure Track Changes is turned OFF.
  2. Select the entire document (Ctrl+A).
  3. Right-click on the selection and select Update Field.
  4. When asked about updating the table of contents etc. select Update entire table and click OK. You may have to answer this several times for each contents list.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 once more to be sure you got everything. Sometimes, the first update will update the numbers for moved figures/tables etc. but not the x-refs too—to be certain you update the x-refs, repeat these steps a second time.

 

TROUBLESHOOTING

What does ‘Error! Reference not found.’ mean?

You’ll get ‘Error! Reference not found.’ for any x-refs that have nothing to point (refer) to. The most common reason for these error messages is that you’ve deleted a section heading (or a figure/table caption) without realizing that there was a x-ref to it somewhere else in the document. Behind the scenes, Word has unique ID numbers for each x-ref that refers to specific sections, tables, etc. So if you delete the section heading/caption but not the x-ref, Word loses the connection between the two when the fields are updated, and so reports ‘Error! Reference not found.’. The only simple solutions are to:

  • delete the message if the table etc. has been deleted, OR
  • replace the message by creating a new x-ref to the correct place.

What about Section 0?

If you notice some ‘Section 0’ x-refs after you update the fields, there’s a good chance you inserted a new paragraph by pressing Enter at the beginning of an existing section heading and then changed the style of the new paragraph. This screws up the internal IDs. Best practice is to insert a new paragraph at the END of the previous paragraph by pressing Enter. For detailed information on this problem and various methods of solving it, see: http://www.thedoctools.com/demos/demo_crossref_2.html

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See also:

[Links last checked August 2014]

4 comments

  1. Thanks for your thorough post. One question: If I’m x-referencing multiple things (like photos, in my example) in one spot, I’d like to write, “see photos q-t” or, “see Photos A, B and C”. The only way I can see to do this is my inserting a link to each photo, which makes the text cumbersome. Is it possible to tell Word to say only link to the “number” rather than “Only label and Number”? Thanks in advance!!


  2. Hi Kelly

    I don’t think there’s a way to do that in Word, unless perhaps via a macro of some sort. If I need to cross-reference a range I do ‘see Figure 1 to Figure 5’.

    –Rhonda


  3. Thanks Rhonda! Good idea.


  4. We’ve come up with a problem concerning inserting cross-reference in the Russian language. So we want to automate word ending change when inserting cross-reference e.g. figure caption reads as “Рисунок 1”. When we insert it into a sentence as a cross-reference, we need the this caption reads as “рисунКА 1”. So is it possible to automate the word ending change of a figure caption when inserting it as a cross reference in a final sentence?
    Thank you for your answer!!



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