Common Hyperlink Problems

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Common hyperlink problems

What is a hyperlink?

A hyperlink is defined as “an icon, graphic, or word in a file that, when clicked on with the mouse, automatically opens another file for viewing.”

If you were around (and paying attention) back when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, you heard a lot about the exciting possibilities of “hypertext,” which is the basis for the Web. When you surf the Web with your Web browser, the “http” that begins the URL displayed in your browser’s address bar or status bar stands for “Hypertext Transfer Protocol,” and HTML, the language used for Web pages, is “Hypertext Markup Language.”

The whole idea of hypertext is that you don’t have to read it linearly, like a book. It contains “hyperlinks” that, when clicked, instantly transport you somewhere else—another point in the same document or Web page or another document or Web page. This is rather like turning from your current page in a book to the notes or index at the back of the book, or finding a page number in a table of contents and turning to that page, or finding a reference to another book and going and getting that book, except that the process is automated and instant.

Although hyperlinks were originally created for use on the Web, they have become increasingly common in Word documents, especially those intended to be read onscreen. When you insert a table of contents (TOC) in Word 2000 or above, by default the TOC entries are hyperlinked to the corresponding headings in the text. In any version of Word the page numbers in a TOC are hyperlinked to the corresponding pages. Cross-references are also, by default, inserted as hyperlinks.

How to create a hyperlink

In Word a hyperlink consists of (at least) two parts: the display text and the field code. The display text is what the reader recognizes as a hyperlink, but the field code is what makes the computer actually jump to somewhere else. Word provides several ways to create hyperlinks.

Note for Mac Users: This article uses WinWord keyboard shortcuts. On the Mac, Alt+F9 is equivalent to Opt+F9. For Tools | Options, substitute Word | Preferences.

AutoFormat and AutoFormat As You Type

The AutoFormat As You Type dialog includes a check box for “Internet and network paths with hyperlinks.” If you have this box checked, then whenever you type a text string that Word recognizes as an email address, URL, or file path, it will automatically be converted to a hyperlink. If you have the same box checked in the AutoFormat dialog, such strings will be converted when you run AutoFormat over text that has already been typed.

  • In Word 2000 and earlier, both these dialogs are accessed via Tools | AutoCorrect.

  • In Word 2002 and 2003, the Tools menu entry is called AutoCorrect Options.

  • In Word 2007, access this dialog via Office Button | Word Options | Proofing | AutoCorrect Options...

  • In Word 2010 and 2013, the path is File | Options | Proofing | AutoCorrect Options...

Figure 1. The AutoFormat As You Type dialog.

Note: You may wonder what type of text Word will automatically recognize as something that should be a hyperlink. Word will “recognize” as an email address any “word” that contains the @ symbol, even if the “email address” is an expletive such as !@#$%. It will recognize text as an URL if it begins with “www.” or “http://” I have not been able to determine what it recognizes as a file path, though the presence of a colon and slashes might be assumed.

Insert Hyperlink button

On the Standard toolbar in Word 2003 and earlier there is an Insert Hyperlink button (see Figure 2). In Word 2007 and above, this button is in the Links group on the Insert tab of the Ribbon. If you select (or even just click in) a recognizable email address, URL, or file path and click this button, Word will convert the text to a hyperlink. The keyboard shortcut for this command is Ctrl+K. In Word 2007 and above, this shortcut opens the Insert Hyperlink dialog (see below).

Figure 2. The Insert Hyperlink button

Insert Hyperlink dialog

The Insert Hyperlink dialog, however, gives you the most control over the hyperlinks you insert. There are at least two (and often three) parts to every hyperlink: (1) the display text, (2) the underlying URL, email address, or file path, and (3) the ScreenTip (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. The Edit Hyperlink dialog (identical to Insert Hyperlink)

When you create a hyperlink using either of the methods described above , the display text and underlying link are the same, and there is no ScreenTip. To access these features you must either use Insert | Hyperlink or Ctrl+K to open the Insert Hyperlink dialog or right-click on an existing hyperlink and choose Edit Hyperlink to open an identical dialog. If you have text selected when you press Ctrl+K or choose Insert | Hyperlink, it will be placed in the “Text to display” box. If you use Edit Hyperlink, the existing hyperlink becomes the default “Text to display,” but of course you can change it.

In Word 2007 and above the Hyperlink command, which opens the Insert Hyperlink dialog, is on the Insert tab; the Edit Hyperlink dialog may be accessed by right-clicking on an existing hyperlink as in previous versions.

The hyperlink created in Figure 3 will be displayed on screen as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Hyperlink in document

The underlying field code for the hyperlink can be seen by pressing Alt+F9 or checking the box for “Field codes” on the View tab of Tools | Options. It is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. HYPERLINK field code

Note that the “display text” does not have to be text. You can use an icon or picture as a hyperlink. Just select the picture in your document and open the Insert Hyperlink dialog. The “Text to display” box will be dimmed (grayed out) and will display <<Selection in document>>.

Word’s Help topic “Create a hyperlink” includes detailed instructions for creating hyperlinks to a variety of targets using this dialog.

When hyperlinks go wrong

An understanding of the above issues should go a long way to helping you figure out what’s happening when hyperlinks don’t look or behave as you think they ought to.

Hyperlinks don’t look like hyperlinks

Although you may be used to seeing hyperlinks as blue and underlined, they can be formatted in many different ways and may even look like ordinary text. For example, TOC entries and cross-references, even when they are hyperlinks, do not have the distinctive hyperlink formatting.

The Hyperlink character style in Word 2003 and earlier is defined as “Default Paragraph Font + Underline, Font color: Blue” (see Figure 6). Like any other style in Word, this style can be modified, so the hyperlinks in your document could be, for example, red and not underlined (as on this Web page)—or any other formatting you desire. In fact, in Word 2007 and above, the formatting of the Hyperlink style varies depending on the theme applied. For example, in the Aspect theme, the Hyperlink color is a shade of green (RGB 107,157,37). Note that there is a separate Followed Hyperlink style (defined as “Default Paragraph Font + Underline, Font color: Violet”) that is automatically applied when a hyperlink has been followed; if you want your hyperlinks always to look the same, you will need to modify this style as well.

Figure 6. The Hyperlink character style

If you expect hyperlinks to be blue and underlined and they’re not, there are several possibilities:

  1. They’re not active hyperlinks (see next section).

  2. The Hyperlink style has not been applied.

  3. The Hyperlink style has been modified.

  4. The Followed Hyperlink style is in effect instead.

  5. The hyperlinks are cross-references or TOC entries.

If hyperlinks look like Figure 5 above, then you are seeing the field code instead of the field result. You can select or click in the field code and press Shift+F9 to toggle the display of that single field or press Alt+F9 to toggle all the fields in the document or clear the “Field codes” check box on the View tab of Tools | Options.

Hyperlinks aren’t clickable

If a hyperlink, despite looking like a hyperlink, doesn’t do anything when you click on it, there are three possible causes:

  1. It isn’t really a hyperlink. It may just be plain text with the Hyperlink character style applied. Press Alt+F9 to see if there is an underlying HYPERLINK field code.

  2. You are viewing the field code (see Figure 5) instead of the field result.

  3. You are using a version that by default requires you to press Ctrl while clicking in order to follow the link. If you have ScreenTips enabled, you should see a ScreenTip such as the one shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Hyperlink ScreenTip as seen in Word 2002 or later

To turn on the display of ScreenTips:

  • Word 2003 and earlier: Tools | Options | View: Show: ScreenTips.

  • Word 2007: Office Button | Word Options | Display: Show document tooltips on hover.

  • Word 2010 and 2013: File | Options | Display: Show document tooltips on hover.

This safety feature, introduced in Word 2002, was intended to make it easier to edit the display text of hyperlinks. If you prefer to revert to the behavior of previous versions, clear the check box for “Use CTRL + Click to follow hyperlink” at the following location:

  • Word 2003 and earlier: Tools | Options | Edit

  • Word 2007: Office Button | Word Options | Advanced: Editing options

  • Word 2010 and 2013: File | Options | Advanced: Editing options

The link goes to the wrong place

This usually means that the display text of the hyperlink doesn’t agree with the underlying link. As noted above, current Word versions make it easier to edit the display text of a hyperlink; you can do this directly in the document because, by default, clicking on or in the hyperlink doesn’t send you haring off across the Internet to the referenced URL.

But changing the display text doesn’t actually change the hyperlink, just the text that is displayed. This may be obvious to you if the display text is different from the underlying URL, but if they are the same, it may not occur to you. In order to change the target of the link, you need to change the HYPERLINK field code as well. You can do this either through the Edit Hyperlink dialog or directly.

To give you a real-world example, some time ago mvps.org moved to a new server, and all the site addresses were changed. So a page at the Word MVPs’ Web site that used to be, say, http://mvps.org/word/FAQs/AppErrors/ProbsOpeningWord.htm became http://word.mvps.org/FAQs/AppErrors/ProbsOpeningWord.htm. In the reference document that I use to keep track of frequently referenced articles at this Web site, I had to change all the links. Using Find and Replace, I could replace “mvps.org/word” with “word.mvps.org” in each link, and this worked great—for the display text. But when I hovered over the links, the ScreenTips showed that the underlying hyperlinks were unchanged. In order to change them, I had to display the field codes (using Alt+F9) and run the Replace operation again.

To my surprise, even this was not effective. The ScreenTips still showed the old URLs. What? Aha! I hadn’t updated the fields. By selecting all the fields (Ctrl+A to select the entire document) and pressing F9 to update the fields, I solved the problem.

The bottom line is that if you want to change the target of a hyperlink, you must do it in three steps:

  1. Change the display text (if it is the same as the target).

  2. Change the underlying HYPERLINK field code.

  3. Update the field.

Paul DeBrino has reminded me of another issue that causes Microsoft Word to change and perhaps break your hyperlinks, by altering the link from an absolute to relative path or vice versa, when saving your Word document.

After creating a hyperlink in Word, hovering over that hyperlink displays your intended path. However, once you click Save, Word may change the link to a path that is relative to the Word document’s location, a virtual path that begins with …/

To prevent Word from changing your hyperlinks, take the following steps:

  1. Click Tools | Options (in Word 2007, Office Button | Word Options; in Word 2010/2013, File | Options).

  2. On the General tab, click the Web Options button (in Word 2007 and above, this button is at the very bottom of the Advanced section of Word Options).

  3. In the Web Options window, click the Files tab.

  4. Clear the check box for “Update links on save.”

  5. Click OK to save your preferences.

This article copyright © 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013 by Suzanne S. Barnhill, with thanks to Daiya Mitchell for her helpful comments.