Skip to Main Content

Microsoft Word for Dissertations

Describes many of the special features of Microsoft Word you can use to make formatting your dissertation easier. While it's focused on dissertations, this information is useful for any long document.

Inserting Captions

Word can automatically number the captions of your tables, figures and equations. The format of those captions is controlled by the Caption Style, and later in this section we describe how to modify that style to match the formatting requirements of your particular Style Guide (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc...).

The following video will show you how to insert objects such as pictures (figures) and charts. At the 1:40 point of the video, it discusses how to add captions to those objects. Despite the references to Word 2010, the information is still accurate.  

To add a caption to a figure, table, or other object:

  1. Right-click the object you wish to caption and select Insert Caption…  from the pop-up menu.  To get this option for tables, you will need to  right-click the  crosshair icon that appears at the top-left corner of the table when you hover your cursor over the table.  
  2. In the window that appears, select the label that applies to the object you have selected (e.g. “Figure” or “Table”) and select the positioning of the caption (e.g. above or below the object). You can click the "New Label..." button if you wish to create a different label (such as "Maps" or "Appendix Figures")
  3. Type your text in the Caption: field. This field has a 250-character limit, so if your caption is longer than that, you should refrain from adding it here, and instead add it after you've inserted the caption – Step 6)
  4. To include the chapter number in your caption (e.g. “Figure 3-2” or “Table 2.1”), you need to have set up your Heading 1 style first (see Automatic Chapter and Subsection Numbering. This is the only way Word understands where each chapter starts; otherwise, you will get an error. If you’ve done that, then in the Caption window,
    • Click the Numbering… button and check the Include Chapter Number box.
    • Select the separator (hyphen, comma, etc...) you wish to have between your chapter number and the caption number and click OK.
  5. Click OK to exit the dialog box.
  6. If you waited to enter a long caption, now you can type it in.

Word will renumber your captions appropriately if you insert a new figure before other figures in your document. 

Sometimes, Word won't renumber your captions right away.  It will renumber them eventually, but you can force it by selecting the incorrect number, right-clicking on it, and selecting "Update Field".  Or -- our favorite technique -- trick Word into thinking you're going to print by selecting Print (or Ctrl-P, or Command-P, etc...). Word will update all the fields throughout your document, including the ToC, Lists of Figures, and caption numberings. Then Cancel without printing.

All the captions in your document are styled with the Caption style, and that may not match what your Style Guide (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc...) calls for. If you do not like the appearance/formatting of your caption text, do not edit them one-by-one, but modify the Caption style instead (see Modifying a Style for more details). Word's default Caption style, for example, sets the captions to be a slate blue color, which you would likely prefer to be black. Also note that if you want your label & number to be Bold and the caption text to be Regular (e.g. "Figure 2.1: This is my caption"), then you will have to leave the Caption style set to Regular and then manually format the label & number as Bold yourself -- Word can't mix font settings within a caption, unfortunately.

List of Figures/Tables/Equations

At some point after you've added a number of Figure or Table captions, you'll need to add a List of Figures or List of Tables to your frontmatter. Please refer to the Automatic Table of Contents and Lists section of this Guide to learn how to create those.

Long Captions in the List of Figures/Tables

In some disciplines, it’s not uncommon for many of your captions to be quite long. By default, the List of Figures/Tables tool will pull in the entire caption, making your List many pages long. Rackham doesn’t care how long your Lists are (we've seen Lists of Figures as long as 30 pages, due to those long captions!), but nevertheless, it may make sense to trim down excessive captions in the List.

How you do this depends on whether your computer is a Mac or a Windows machine.  In both cases, we’ll insert a character between the part of the long caption we want to have in the List of Figures and the part we don’t.

First, we’ll set Word to hide “hidden text” when showing “non-printing characters”.

On a Mac:

  1. At the top left of the screen, open the Word menu and select Preferences (or use this keyboard shortcut: Command-Comma). 
  2. Select View
  3. Under Show Non-Printing Characters, make sure that the Hidden text checkbox is NOT checked.

On Windows:

  1. On the top left, click on File to open the File ribbon
  2. Click on Options
  3. In the Word Options window that appears, select Display.
  4. Make sure that the Hidden text checkbox is NOT checked.

Click OK or close the window to continue.

Make sure that you’ve toggled on the invisible characters (Home tab: ) to show all the non-printing characters in your document.

Next, we’ll place a hidden paragraph character between the part of the caption you wish to include in the List of Figures and the part you don’t:

  1. In your caption, place your cursor just before the text you don’t wish to have in your List of Figures. 
  2. Press Enter or Return on the keyboard, to put the text on a new paragraph
  3. Carefully click and drag to select/highlight that new paragraph character
  4. (Mac) From the Format menu, select Font… 
    (Win) Right-click on the selected paragraph character and choose Font...
  5. In the window that appears, check the Hidden checkbox
  6. Click OK.

Now try toggling the invisibles off and on.  The caption will display as two separate paragraphs while the invisible characters are visible but will appear as a single paragraph when they're hidden. More importantly, the second paragraph will no longer be included when you generate or update your List of Figures.

Important Note:  Notice that when the paragraph marker is visible, it pushes the following text down a line as if it's a new paragraph. And if you have several of these throughout a chapter, the cumulative effect could possibly push things onto different pages than they're on when those characters are hidden.  With this in mind, it's wise to toggle the invisibles  (                            ) to HIDE the non-printing characters before updating your Table of Contents or List of Figures/Tables/etc..., to be sure they are updated with the correct pages.