How to Label Tables and Figures in Microsoft Word
  • 3-minute read
  • 7th February 2015

How to Label Tables and Figures in Microsoft Word

When you are writing an academic document, make sure that you label tables and figures correctly. This is paramount; incorrectly labelled tables and figures can cost you vital marks!

If you can’t work out how to do this, or if you are worried about it, you can always get it checked by a professional. However, if you want to learn how to do it yourself, read on!

How to Label Tables

Tables usually need to have a label positioned above the table itself. Number tables sequentially (i.e. ‘Table 1’, ‘Table 2’, etc.) and make sure the label explains exactly what data the table presents.

For example, if the first table in your document contains information about commuting by bicycle in Melbourne during 2014, you might label it:

Table 1: Daily Commutes Made by Bicycle in Melbourne, 2014.

How to Label Figures

Figures and graphs usually need to have a label positioned below the figure or graph. As with tables, make sure to number the figures in your document sequentially and to use labels that explain the data clearly and accurately.

How to Insert a Label in Microsoft Word

Labels for tables and figures are known as ‘captions’ or ‘legends’. To insert a caption in Microsoft Word, here is what you need to do:

On a PC

Select the item that needs the caption and go to References > Insert Caption.

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The 'Captions' tab.
The ‘Captions’ tab.

Next, the caption menu will appear.

The Caption menu.
The Caption menu.

Here, the first part of the caption will be auto-filled. The default is set to ‘Figure’, which can be applied to images and graphs. You can also select a ‘Table’ label from the dropdown menu. These automatically update to the next number, so if two figures have already been captioned this way, the caption box will display ‘Figure 3’.

The rest of the settings can typically remain the same unless you are using a different numbering system.

On a Mac

Select the item that needs the caption and go to Insert > Caption. This will make the caption menu will appear.

The Mac caption menu.
The Mac caption menu.

The rest of the process is the same as with a PC.

Using the caption function rather than manually writing out labels will make it easier when you come to inserting a table of figures or tables. Good luck!

Comments (10)
Emil Ramos
18th September 2018 at 03:38
How to assign correct reference number with sequence steps. example: Step 4: 1. sample instruction..... A. refer to Figure 4.a question: what is the rule in assigning reference figure number? is 4.a correct? or I can assign Figure A? or Figure 1?
    18th September 2018 at 08:52
    Hi, Emil. I'm afraid I'm not entirely sure I follow you. Are you asking whether there is a correct numbering system for an illustration within a list of instructions? If so, then it is entirely up to you how you label figures; the important thing is that each figure is clearly and distinctly labelled and that the labels used in your instructions match those used in the accompanying figures.
      6th August 2019 at 04:49
      How do I use this notation? Table.: Example Table 2.9: List of specialized tools
      6th August 2019 at 08:12
      If you are asking about the decimal numbering (i.e. 2.9), then you can generate that automatically by adding numbered chapter headings using one of the 'Heading' styles, adding a caption, clicking the 'Numbering' option and selecting 'Include chapter number' (with your chosen heading style and 'period' as the separator). You'd then just have to write the rest of the table name as the caption text.
14th August 2019 at 05:40
How do I reset the figure number to 1 in each section of the document, to follow the format 4-1 for the first figure in section 4?
    14th August 2019 at 08:34
    Hi, Cat. If you have numbered chapter/section headings in the document, you can include chapter numbers in figure captions (e.g. so the first caption in chapter one would be '1 - A', etc.). To do this: - Apply numbered headings in the document - Add a caption - Click 'Numbering' - Select 'Include chapter number' - Pick the heading style you used for the section headers in the 'Chapter starts with style menu' - Select the number format and separator - Click 'OK'
16th January 2020 at 15:46
Is there a way to make the numbering system automatic? Say if I move Figure 1 below Figure 3, I want the document to automatically switch the numbers but I'm not sure how I can do that.
    16th January 2020 at 15:52
    Hi, Jack. The caption numbering in MS Word doesn't update automatically, but you can do it quickly by selecting the whole document (including captions), right-clicking one caption (any will do), and selecting 'Update Field'. This will then update all caption numbers to reflect their current order in the document. Hope that helps.
Dennis Gilman
11th February 2021 at 18:47
Hi all. I'm creating a document in which I am inserting several separate reports which I have summarized. Each report has more than one figure or table. Of course, each report has numbered its figures sequentially (e.g., Fig 1, Fig 2, etc.). If I pull in all the figures into the parent document I am creating, do I renumber all the figures as one sequential series and add a table of figures to the Table of Contents? In other words, do I renumber all the figures as one sequential series? Thanks in advance for your help.
    12th February 2021 at 10:19
    Hi, Dennis. If you are using the caption tool in Microsoft Word, they figure numbers should automatically update once they are all in the same document. You can also add chapter numbers to captions if you like, which would avoid having all the figures in the document numbered sequentially. See here for more:

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