How to make dynamically numbered figures and tables in Microsoft Word

Basic idea

You can use field codes to keep numbers in sequence on a non-printed page of the document, and then have the actual references in the document use field codes to refer to these sequenced numbers. This allows you to very quickly reorder, add, or remove figures, and all the figure numbers in the document will automatically adjust.

A general tip

Everything you do in MS Word will be better it you turn on the "Show Paragraphs" mode, which looks like this:

This will allow you to see how your document is put together: all the tabs, spaces, paragraph endings, and object anchors.

Make a list of figures

This would not be your figure list that goes in the front of the thesis, but a non-printing page at the end of the document. Here you make a list of figures, one per line, with a brief description (not the whole caption generally, although you could if you wish). However, instead of typing an actual number, you put in a field code (Insert > Field...) with the contents "SEQ Figs" (you can put anything you like in for the "Figs" part). The SEQ code just means a sequence, so every time it is found in the document, it increments the number. You can have multiple sequences just by changing the tag (the "Figs" part). So you could have a separate sequence for Tables,a nd yet another for equations or chemical reactions for example.

Insert bookmarks

Now, in order to have the text be able to access these sequenced numbers, we need to bookmark each one. So select each number (not the spaces or other text around it) and insert a bookmark (Insert>Bookmark). Name it something descriptive like "Fig_RegionalMap". Do not name it "Figure3", because the point is that you can't rely on what you now consider to be figure 3 to remain figure 3. That's the whole point of this! You might decide to reorder things.

Insert text references

You're nearly done - now when you want to insert a figure reference (or table or equation, etc.) instead of typing the figure number itself, you insert a reference to the bookmark. To do this, you insert a field (Insert > Field...) and type "REF Fig_RegionalMap" (or whatever the bookmark name you chose for that figure was). If you forget, you can type "REF " and then hit the options button, and you will have access to a list of all the bookmarks in your document. Double click one and it will be inserted into the box after the "REF ".

Sample Document

Here is a sample document I've made that has all the features, as well as toggle buttons on the toolbar for viewing field codes and bookmarks.

I hope this is helpful. If you have more questions, ask me.