Aid readers by adding cross-references to long Word documents

Cross-referencing a Word document isn't as difficult as it might first appear. It's straightforward and easy-to-implement.

Cross-referencing a long document is helpful - I certainly know that I appreciate them. Readers could just page down, but clicking a link is easier, especially when the content in question is several pages or chapters away from the current position. Everyone will appreciate the extra effort and it's so easy to do that users won't mind the extra steps involved, especially once they start hearing "Thanks for adding those links. What a great idea!"

First, determine whether a document really needs cross-references. Anything over a few pages will benefit, but this feature shines in long documents. You can reference text and graphics, but to reference a graphic be sure to add captions. You can't reference the graphics themselves, but you can reference their captions.

This feature relies on styles and that's what scares people. In this case, that fear is unwarranted as implementing the feature is straightforward. Use styles to format and cross-reference.  In the example document show below, I modified Heading 3 and used it to format the section headings. In addition, I added a caption to the table. (I've kept the document small on purpose.) We'll reference the circled headings and table caption.

First, we'll add, to the title page, a cross-reference to each section. Then, we'll add an in-text reference to the table, by referencing the caption.

Now, let's build a mini table of contents, as follows:

  1. Position the cursor just under the butterfly picture. If you want the table of contents centered, click Center.
  2. Click the Insert tab and then click Cross-reference in the Links group. In Word 2003, choose Reference from the Insert menu, and then choose Cross-reference.
  3. The Reference Type dropdown lists the type of elements you can reference. In this case, it's the section headings that we formatted using a heading style. That's how Word knows how to find the reference - using the style. From this control, choose Heading.
  4. Next, choose Heading Text from the Insert Reference To dropdown.
  5. In the For Which Heading list, select Butterflies Prefer Wildflowers - that's the first section, so you'll want to list it first.
  6. Click Insert and Word will insert the referenced text. To use the link to skip to the appropriate section, hold down the [Ctrl] key and click the reference.

Repeat the above instructions to add cross-references to the other two sections - the result is a  table of contents, of a sort. (The references doesn't include a page number, it's just a link.) The reference uses the same style as the referenced text. You can format the references separately, after adding them. For instance, in this case, you might want to increase the font size.

The steps to add an in-text cross-reference to the table are the same. First, position the cursor in the text where you want to add the reference. In this case, I added a set of parenthesis for the reference and clicked inside (see below). Repeat the above steps, except, in step 3, choose Table. In step 4, select Only Label And Number. Choose the appropriate caption (in this case, there's only one). Click Insert and then Close. Clicking this reference will select the table. I realize that in this case, there's not much of a jump because the table's just a few lines down; keeping the document small limits the visual impact of the exercise.

This simple exercise provides enough information to get your started. At this point, you can see that it's a simple process, but there are lots of possibilities when deciding where and what to reference.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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