Combine Cross-references

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How to combine multiple cross-references

Users often ask if there is a way to make Word combine cross-references to captions* without repeating the label. That is, instead of having to write, “see Figure 5, Figure 6, and Figure 7,” can you write, “see Figures 5, 6, and 7” or “see Figures 5–7”?

You can. In fact, there are two ways to do it—a kludgy workaround and a brilliantly elegant method. I imagine you'd rather have the brilliant one first! If you have not already inserted your caption and cross-references, however, read the first part of the kludgy workaround for instructions.

The brilliant way

This method, which was pointed out to me by fellow Word MVP Paul Edstein, who posts under the name "macropod," is breathtakingly simple and elegant. Paul points out that you can achieve the desired effect simply by adding a numeric picture switch to the cross-reference field. He adds:

Ordinarily, the field code for such a cross-reference would appear as something like:
    { REF _Ref218925266 \h }
Simply change this to:
    { REF _Ref218925266 \# 0 \h }

Note that the \h switch in Paul's example indicates a cross-reference inserted as a hyperlink; if you chose not to hyperlink the cross-reference, the field will not have this switch.

Figure captions with chapter numbers

Another user, Joe Prinold, has discovered a further refinement. The \# 0 switch, he points out displays the field (the figure/equation number) as a single digit. If one has a reference to a figure/equation in the form 2.3, that is, Chapter#.Figure#, then the above code only displays the 2, that is, the Chapter#,  and so the code needs to be changed to:

{ REF _Ref218925266 \# 0.0 \h }

If you have a different separator in your caption label, then you would need to use, say, \# 0-0 in the REF field.

Double-digit figure numbers

But wait! There's more! Yet another user, Michal Solecki, discovered that using the \# 0.0 switch failed with double-digit figure numbers, but he figured out the solution: if you have more than nine figures in a chapter, you will need this field:

{ REF _Ref218925266 \# 0.0x \h }

Presumably if you have more than nine chapters, you'd need \# 0x.0x.

Alternative methods

Paul Edstein has recently written to add "two more ways of skinning this cat":

{ QUOTE 'Caption' \* Arabic }
{ QUOTE 'Caption' \# 0 }

In these examples 'Caption' represents the caption cross-reference. To create these fields, type QUOTE before the existing REF field and one or the other of the switches after it. Then select the entire expression and press Ctrl+F9 to convert it to a field. This would result in the following fields for the example given above:

{ QUOTE { REF _Ref218925266 \h } \* Arabic }
{ QUOTE { REF _Ref218925266 \h } \# 0 }

You might as well remove the \h switch, however, as Paul cautions that it will no longer work (that is, the cross-reference will no longer be a hyperlink). Paul adds that these fields offer “no particular advantage unless one wants to incorporate some of the extra capabilities of QUOTE fields.”

Important Note: User Mark Uwe Simoni was having difficulty making these fields work. He realized belatedly that, after being edited, the fields must be updated with F9 (Fn+F9 on some keyboards).

The kludgy workaround

The second method, which should be used only if the first for some reason does not work, is a bit fiddly, but once you get the hang of it, you can do it much more quickly than you can read the instructions for doing it. Here’s how:

  1. First you must create the captions. Using the above example, you would create the captions for Figures 5, 6, and 7 using Insert | Reference | Caption (see Figure 1). (In Word 2007 and above, use Insert Caption in the Captions group on the References tab of the Ribbon.)

Figure 1. Caption dialog

  1. Next you must insert the cross-references. Using Insert | Reference | Cross-reference, select “Figure” as the “Reference type” and “Only label and number” under “Insert reference to” (see Figure 2). (In Word 2007 and above, Cross-reference is also in the Captions group on the References tab of the Ribbon as well as the Links group on the Insert tab of the Ribbon.)

Figure 2. Cross-reference dialog

This step is very important. When you insert a cross-reference, Word inserts a bookmark around the caption label you are cross-referencing. Without this bookmark, you can’t go on to the next step.

When you have inserted the cross-references, if you have field shading display set to “Always,” you will see that the cross-references are fields (see Figure 3). (If you press Alt+F9 to display field codes, you will see REF fields with numeric bookmarks. The field code for the “Figure 5” cross-reference in this instance is { REF _Ref107244825 }, referencing the bookmark _Ref107244825, as shown in Figure 5 of this article.)

Figure 3. Cross-references in text

  1. Once you have inserted the cross-references to Figures 5, 6, and 7, go to the caption for Figure 5 and select just the figure number, omitting the label (see Figure 4). (From the field shading of the captions, you can see that the “Figure” label is not part of a field. The number itself is the result of a { SEQ Figure \* ARABIC } field, as you can see if you press Alt+F9.)

Figure 4. Caption for Figure 5 with just number selected

  1. Choose Insert | Bookmark to open the Bookmark dialog. Check the box for “Hidden bookmarks” and select the radio button for “Location,” as shown in Figure 5 below. (In Word 2007 and above, Bookmark is in the Links group on the Insert tab of the Ribbon.)

Figure 5. Bookmark dialog with bookmark for Figure 5 caption selected

  1. The bookmark that is highlighted is the one for the caption you have selected. Click “Add” to reinsert the bookmark around just the figure number.

  2. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for Figures 6 and 7.

  3. Select your cross-references and press F9 to update the fields. Your text will now read “see 5, 6, and 7.” Type “Figures” after “see.”

  4. If you prefer the format “see Figures 5–7,” omit the cross-reference to Figure 6 in the first place and insert an en dash between the cross-references to Figures 5 and 7.

What happens next

Possibly you will have occasion to insert subsequent references to these same figures, either separately or in combination with other figures.

  1. If you need to reference Figure 5, Figure 6, or Figure 7 again separately (including the "Figure" label), just insert a new cross-reference the same way you inserted the first one, using Insert | Reference | Cross-reference and selecting "Figure" as the reference type. This will create a new bookmark around the whole label (the caption will now have two overlapping bookmarks).

  2. If you need to reference any of those figures again by number alone, you have two choices: (a) you can go to the cross-reference you modified before, press Alt+F9 to display the field code, make a note of the bookmark, and then use Insert | Reference | Cross-reference (Insert | Links | Cross-reference in Word 2007 and above) to insert a cross-reference to that bookmark, or (b) you can Copy and Paste the existing cross-reference, which is much easier and less prone to error.

Important Note: User Bruce Quinton has pointed out that changing the bookmark as described above will affect all existing cross-references to the given figure. If you do already have multiple cross-references, some of which require the figure label, then you may want instead to manually create a new bookmark around just the figure number. Then, in the cross-reference where you want only the figure number, you can substitute the name of your new bookmark for the one automatically generated by Word; for example, you would change { REF _Ref107244825 } to { REF MyBookmark }.

*This article is just about cross-references to captions. For cross-references to numbered paragraphs that have a label, such as Chapter 1 or Section 1.01, there is a documented switch (\t) that can be used in the REF field to suppress the label; for more on this, see this article.

This article copyright © 2005, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2023 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.