Fields in Footnotes Won't Update Automatically

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated December 7, 2019)

Peter created a bookmark in his document. Using a field, he cross-referenced the page number of that bookmark in a footnote. The problem is that as Peter adds info to the document, the field (and, therefore, the page number cross-reference) is not updating. He wonders why this happens.

This happens because Word doesn't update fields automatically as you type. In fact, Word seems rather wonky in how it chooses to update fields. They are updated when you first open a document and they are updated if you print a document. Between those two events, you can update fields manually, but how you go about it depends on which layer of your document the field is on.

So, for instance, if Peter was to select the entire document and press the shortcut key to update the fields (F9), that still wouldn't update the fields in the footnotes. This is because footnotes are contained on a different layer than the main body text.

In fact, Word has a lot of different layers in a document, and fields can be in just about any of them. You can update the fields on many of those layers by using an old trick—press Ctrl+P to display the Print settings. You aren't really going to print; you just want to display the preview of what will be printed. You can then immediately press Esc to go back to your document, and you may note that your fields are updated.

If this print-preview trick doesn't update your fields, it could be that you have that capability turned off in Word. You can check that by following these steps:

  1. Display the Word Options dialog box. (In Word 2007 click the Office button and then click Word Options. In Word 2010 and later versions, display the File tab of the ribbon and then click Options.)
  2. At the left of the dialog box click Display. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Display options of the Word Options dialog box.

  4. Make sure the Update Fields Before Printing check box is selected.
  5. Click Advanced at the left side of the dialog box.
  6. Scroll down until you see the Print section. (See Figure 2.)
  7. Figure 2. The Print settings in the Word Options dialog box.

  8. Make sure the Allow Fields Containing Tracked Changes to Update Before Printing check box is selected.
  9. Click OK to save your changes.

If you want to make sure that all the fields in your document are updated, you'll need to use a macro that steps through all the layers in your document and, if a layer contains fields, updates those fields. This has been discussed in other WordTips. The following two are helpful in this regard:

You'll note that these tips contain macros that can be used to update all fields in a document. I won't repeat those here, but they can be used for Peter's needs.

If you want an in-depth understanding of various types of fields, where those fields can appear, when they are updated, and so forth, you can't beat the discussion on this page:

You can also find a macro referenced on that page that will update all the fields in a document wherever they may be hiding.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13709) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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