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Telling Your Reader Where To Go

While you generally put bookmarks in your document for your convenience in navigation, cross-references are generally there for your readers, sending them to another location in your text where they'll be able to find more information on a related topic. Your admonition to your readers to "See 'New Frontiers in Electronic Socks,' page 215, for more information on how textiles will influence your life in coming decades" is done, at least in theory, as a convenience to the reader.

But automated cross-references are handy for writers as well as readers. Once you set a cross-reference, Word keeps track as the page number or title of a chapter change—so you don't have to do it.

This utility is accomplished by means of the Cross-Reference dialog box shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2Figure 2


Three fields in this dialog box are worth looking at carefully. The first of these fields specifies Reference Type, and determines whether you're sending your reader to a heading, bookmark, footnote, figure, and so on. When you make a selection in this drop-down list, another list below it displays all instances of that kind of "anchor" in the document, allowing you to choose the one you want. In other words, if you choose Heading, you'll see a list of all the formatted headings and subheadings in the document.

At least, that's what you'll see if you've applied the default styles in Word.

Word, as you know, is not as clever as you would like. It hasn't yet mastered the DWIM (Do What I Mean) function. It tries, heaven knows, frequently "fixing" things you don't want fixed, but headings are not recognized as such unless you've applied heading styles to them, and no graphic is seen officially as a figure unless you've used the caption feature to label it as one.


An easy way to apply a heading style is by selecting the text; choosing Format, Styles and Formatting to display the task pane; and then just click the heading style that you want to apply.

You can add a caption to a figure, table, or equation by choosing Insert, Reference, Caption.

The following table shows an expanded account of what you'll see listed when you choose one of the reference types from the drop-down list. Unless Word recognizes your references for what they are, it can't present them to you in a tidy list.

Reference Type

Lists All of These...

Numbered Item

Numbered items or paragraphs currently in the document


Headings or subheadings created using built-in Word heading styles: Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.


Bookmarks inserted into the document so far


Footnotes cited in the document so far


Endnotes cited in the document


Captions specified for equations


Captions specified for figures


Captions specified for tables


Frustrating as it may be, you can't cross-reference to chapter headings, bookmarks, or captions that you haven't yet included in your text.

The other drop-down menu in the Cross-Reference dialog box is the Insert Reference To field, shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3Figure 3

The contents of this list change depending on the reference type you choose. In general, the list offers options about how much and which parts of the text you want to see in the cross-reference. For most reference types, the first item or items in this menu apply to text, while the final ones refer to location. Thus, if you select Figure for your reference type, you would get the choices shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4Figure 4


As you can see, the top three choices concern presentation for caption text. The last two are classic suggestions about where the reader should look for the referenced data—the specific (page number) and the vague (above/below).

Finally, if your document will be available as an electronic file or converted for web delivery, you'll probably want to hyperlink your cross-references by selecting the Insert as Hyperlink option. In fact, because I use cross-references as a navigation tool, I always select this check box.

Now let's say that you're typing along and find yourself at the end of some introductory phrase like "To find out more about how to clip your dog's toenails without getting any of the toe, see..." Obviously, you're ready to insert a cross-reference, probably a different subheading in your document with an appropriate page number. Identifying both the text of your heading and the page actually involves inserting two cross-references. Here's how it's done:

  1. On the Insert menu, select Reference, and then Cross-Reference to open the Cross-Reference dialog box.

  2. Select Heading in the Reference Type list and Heading Text in the Insert Reference To list.

  3. Select the heading title from the list, as shown in Figure 5, and click Insert.

  4. Figure 5Figure 5

    The dialog box stays open so that you can add more cross-references, but still be able to type punctuation or other words in the main text.

  5. Next to the inserted cross-reference, type the word page and any necessary punctuation.

  6. In the dialog box, select Heading in the Reference Type list and Page number in the Insert Reference To list, and then click Insert.

  7. Close the dialog box. You might need to tidy up punctuation and wording in your text when you're finished.

If you change your mind about a heading title or the appropriate page number shifts, the cross-reference will adjust accordingly—whenever you update your fields. Keep in mind that a cross-reference is a field. As a result, strange things can happen to it. It's treated as a unit by Word, and you shouldn't change the text within the field by typing your changes directly. (See my earlier InformIT article about working with fields in Word.) On the other hand, you can update the cross-reference by selecting it and pressing F9 or by right-clicking the field and selecting Update Field from the context menu.

Further, any field, cross-references included, can toggle to display the field code instead of the field result. In that case, your cross-reference will look something like this:

{ REF _Ref78899207 }

Right-click the cross-reference and select Toggle Field Codes on the context menu to set it right.


If you've set up your cross-references as hyperlinks, you can navigate from one to the next by pressing F11.

Finally, if you decide you want to eliminate a cross-reference, select it and press Delete. If you delete the original reference—say you remove a heading or figure without recalling that you've cross-referenced to it—you'll get an error message when you update fields. It's easy at that point to delete the cross-reference, too.

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