Word: How to fix formatting and case differences in a Word index

December 26, 2018

A reader contacted me asking about his index in Word. It seems some entries were showing as bold, italics, etc. and some, which were the same words but in different case, were showing as separate entries. He wanted all index entries that were the same to be in plain text and listed under the one entry.

Now, it’s an awfully long time since I created an index in Word, but I did remember that you have to create index entries (XE fields in Word) before you can create the index itself (Index field).

I did some testing and found out a few things:

  • Entries in different cases are listed separately. Solution: Make them the same case (see below).
  • If the first entry for a term has manually applied character formatting (bold/italics etc.), then the formatting in the index takes the manual character formatting of that first entry. If the manual formatting is applied to second or subsequent entries, then it still remains plain text in the index—it’s the formatting of the FIRST entry for that term that’s critical.
  • The index only reflects manually applied character formatting, not an applied paragraph or character style (I tested with a Heading paragraph style and the Emphasis character style and each time the entry in the index remained in normal text).


The solution requires you to see what’s going on, so the first step is to turn on field shading—this will show the hidden text that is the XE fields. Once you can see what’s going on, you can work on fixing it. Just don’t break those XE fields—they are surrounded by curly brackets, the index entry is surrounded by double quote marks, and a colon separates the main entry from the sub entry. These MUST remain intact.

(click an image to see it full size)

  1. Make sure your field codes are showing (File > Options > Advanced > Field Shading = Always).
    File > Options > Advanced > Field Shading = Always
  2. Once your fields are visible, you’ll see your index entries as field codes (e.g. {XE “Main entry:Sub entry”}). NOTE: When you make changes DO NOT delete the curly brackets, the colon, or the quote marks. In the example below, you can see the index entries and the resulting mess of an index.

    manually applied formatting and different cases are reflected in the index
  3. Go to the first index entry and check its formatting and case. If bold, italics etc. have been manually applied to it, continue to the next step.
  4. Select a field code only (the XE part) and press Ctrl+space to remove any manual character formatting and take the text back to the base paragraph style.
  5. If the case is wrong for the main or sub entry elements, manually change it. Don’t add any spaces between the colon and the sub entry.
  6. Go to the next entry and check its formatting and case (as for step 3).
  7. Repeat steps 4 and/or 5. Do this for several more.
  8. Test that it’s working. Go to the index, right click anywhere in it, then select Update Field. Check the entries that you changed in the earlier steps—they should have gone back to normal text and the case should be correct, therefore putting the same entries together. In the screen shots below, the first test showed that the formatting had been sorted out, but the case issues still remained. I went back and fixed the case in the individual entries and then updated the index again—the second screenshot shows the final result.
    manual formatting issues are now fixed, but the case issues aren't resolved
    All entries are correctly under the one main entry
  9. Repeat for the rest of the index entries that have formatting and case issues. Don’t forgot to update the index when you’re finished and check for any that you missed.



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