How to create automatic numbers and captions for figures: images, pictures, and other illustrations

Word 365
Microsoft Word offers functionality to create automatically updated numbers for figures, tables, and equations. You can define descriptions (captions) for figures in your document and reference them from the document content using the Captions feature. The numbering and links can be automatically updated on adding, moving, or deleting a figure.

In Microsoft Word, figures mean all visual objects other than tables and equations. You can add or create figures using:

  • The Illustrations group of the Insert tab: pictures, images, drawings, charts, diagrams, screenshots, schemas, etc.,
  • The Media group of the Insert tab: Online Video,
  • The Text group of the Insert tab: text boxes, PowerPoint slides, Excel charts, diagrams, etc.

Note: Some publishers don't use the term figure for maps (e.g., Chicago style).

Figures normally have the label Figure and a number followed by a caption. A caption is a short block of text that provides quick information about the figure:

Caption for figure 1 in Word 365   and   Caption for figure 2 in Word 365

Usually, figures have captions instead of titles. See how to create automatic numbers and titles for tables if you need to create titles instead of captions. See also:

Note: You can create a custom label for some types of visual objects. See below how to do that. Remember that each type of object you label will be numbered sequentially within its group.

Attention! We highly recommend checking the formatting requirements, accepted by your college, university, company, or established on the project, etc.


Insert a caption for figures

To add automatically updated numbers and a short description (caption) for an object, select the object and do one of the following:

  • On the References tab, in the Captions group, click the Insert Caption button:
    Insert Caption button in Word 365
  • Right-click on the selection and select the Insert Caption... in the popup menu:
    Insert Caption for pictures in popup menu Word 365  or   Insert Caption for shapes in popup menu Word 365  or   Insert Caption for text box in popup menu Word 365

In the Caption dialog box:

Caption dialog box in Word 365

If you are satisfied with the selected options, click the OK button. Otherwise, make any of the following optional actions:


Select the label and its position

  • Under Options:
    • From the Label dropdown list, select the item type you need:
      Labels in Caption dialog box Word 365

      Note: You may need to create a custom label according to the requirements. Some examples:

      1. If you have to follow the requirements such as the MLA (Modern Language Association) style, you need to use an abbreviation Fig. instead of a pre-defined Figure (e.g., “As shown in Fig. 7”).
      2. The Chicago style uses the word Example rather than Figure to identify samples of written music in a text (e.g., “As shown in Example 7”).

      Remember, each type of object you label will be numbered sequentially within its group.

    • From the Position dropdown list, select one of the options:
      Position in Caption dialog box Word 365
      • Below selected item (selected by default for the Figure label), or
      • Above selected item (selected by default for the Table label).

      Notes:

      1. The captions are usually located under the figures.
      2. Some requirements, such as the APA (American Psychological Association) style, recommend placing captions above figures.

Exclude label from caption

  • Select the Exclude label from caption check box if you don't need to add the label to the caption:
    Exclude label from caption in Caption dialog box Word 365

    Some requirements (MLA and Chicago styles) recommend using the lowercase word figure (if it is not the first word in the sentence) instead of the automatically added Figure in Word cross-references.

    When you insert a cross-reference in the text using the option Entire caption or Only label and number (see how to use cross-references in Word for more details), Word adds the capitalized label and number. You can see it in the Caption field of the Caption dialog box. E.g., “As shown in Figure 7” or “As shown in Figure 7 Masha in a new outfit”.

    If the Exclude label from caption option is checked, Word adds the number without the label to the cross-reference. So, you need to type the word figure in the text (as required) and insert a cross-reference without the label (e.g., “As shown in figure 7”).


Add a new label

  • Click the New Label... button to create a new label:
    Add new label in Caption dialog box Word 365

    In the New Label dialog box, type a new label name:

    New Label dialog box in Word 365

Note: See also how to delete a custom label.


Modify caption numbering

  • Click the Numbering... button if you want to change any of the numbering options:
    Numbering in Caption dialog box Word 365

    In the Caption Numbering dialog box:

    Caption Numbering dialog box in Word 365
    • In the Format dropdown list, select the numbering format you prefer:
    Format in Caption Numbering dialog box Word 365
    • Select the Include chapter number check box to include the chapter number in the figure caption number. If you select this option, two more options will appear:
      • From the Chapter starts with style dropdown list, select the heading level you need to include in the caption:
        Chapter starts with style in Caption Numbering dialog box Word 365
      • In the Use separator dropdown list, select the punctuation you want to insert between the chapter number and the figure number:
        Use separator in Caption Numbering dialog box Word 365
      • At the bottom of the dialog box, see how your choices will look in the Examples section. E.g., “Figure 2.7” means the seventh figure in chapter 2.
      • Click the OK button.

Add a description

  • To add the text of your caption, click after the figure number and enter your text. E.g.:
    Description in Caption dialog box Word 365

    Notes:

    1. The caption is a short description of the object, indicating what it illustrates without reading anything else in the text.
    2. There is no official guideline for the length of this description. It may include additional information such as definitions of symbols, source citations, copyright statements, explanations of measurement units, etc.
    3. According to most requirements, if the caption for figures contains a complete sentence, it should end with a period. The period after the number is optional.

Using an AutoCaption

See Adding captions with AutoCaption.


Group a figure and its caption

According to all requirements, a figure and its caption should appear on the same page. Unfortunately, Word inserts captions without linking them to specific objects. A caption is like a separate paragraph that you can format to keep lines and paragraphs together, but this doesn't help if you move an object. If you have a floating picture (pictures with the wrapping text options), you can see that paragraph with a caption moves separately from the picture.

To move objects with their caption as a single block, you need to group them. To group a figure and its caption, do the following:

   1.   Select the figure.

   2.   Make sure one of the With Text Wrapping choices is selected (see Text wrapping in the Word document):

Text wrapping for picture in Word 365

Note: Word groups with text only floating objects. So, you should do this step before you insert your caption. If you have a caption already, copy its text to the Clipboard, delete it, do this step, then re-add a caption.

   3.   Add a caption using the steps of the section Insert a caption for figures above.

   4.   Select a caption, then hold down the Shift key and select the figure:

Selected figures in Word 365

   5.   Do one of the following:

  • On the Shape Format tab, in the Arrange group, click the Group command:
    Arrange group in Word 365
  • Right-click one of the objects and choose Group -> Group from the popup menu:
    Group in popup menu Word 365

Word puts a single box around the objects instead of separate boxes around each object:

Grouped figures in Word 365

After these steps, a text should flow around the figure and its caption, like one block. Also, the figure and its caption will stay together if you move them elsewhere on the page or document.


Edit or modify a caption

Microsoft Word creates caption numbers as fields.

Caption field in Word 365

See how to turn on or turn off highlighting of fields in a Word document to display all fields in a document with a gray background.

  • Labels:

    You can change the label if necessary. Be careful! Word for Microsoft 365 will:

    • Update the reference if available,
    • Not create a separate numbering since it does not perceive changes as a new label.
  • Numbers:

    DO NOT edit caption numbers! If you change a number:

    • For non-critical changes, Word will update it, and you will lose your changes,
    • Otherwise, the caption number may stop updating automatically.
  • Text:

    To add or modify a caption text, click on it and change what you need, like in a regular paragraph.

Do not forget to format a caption according to the requirements you use!


Delete a caption and an unnecessary label

If you need to remove some caption, select the full caption (full line or several lines) and press Delete. Do not forget to update fields in the document!

To remove the unnecessary label, do the following:

   1.   Open the Caption dialog box.

   2.   In the Label dropdown list, select the label you want to remove.

   3.   Click the Delete Label to remove a custom label:

Delete Label in Captions dialog box Word 365

Note: You can't delete pre-defined labels: Equation, Figure, and Table.


Update caption numbering

Word doesn't always keep up with changes in a document. Word automatically updates the caption numbers when you insert a new caption. After deleting or moving a caption, you should manually update a captions numbering.

To update fields in the document, select the entire document by clicking Ctrl+A, and do one of the following:

  • Press F9,
  • Right-click on any of the fields and select Update Field in the popup menu:
    Update Field in popup menu Word 365

Note: Word doesn't update a numbering in text boxes as in shapes! So, if you have floating pictures, their numbering doesn't be updated until:

  • You select every text box one-by-one and update numbering in each of them,
  • Use a macro to update all fields (we don't recommend macros due to security reasons),
  • Update all fields by using the following workaround:

       1.   On the File tab, click the Options button:

    Word 365 options

       2.   In the Word Options dialog box, on the Display tab, under Printing options, select the Update fields before printing check box, then click OK to close the dialog box:

    Update fields before printing in Word 365

       3.   On the File tab, click Print (or press Ctrl+P):

    Print in Word 365

    You don't need to print the document – only tell Word that you want to print!

       4.   Return to the document view by clicking the Return button:

    Return button in Word 365

    All fields in the document should be updated.

    So, your captions will be automatically updated, and you can be sure that the numbering and references are correct. We strongly recommend checking a document at least visually after changes!

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