Useful StyleRef tricks

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Despite being surprisingly well documented in Word’s online Help file, the StyleRef field may be one of Word’s least noticed—and consequently least used—fields. Users who discover it (or have it pointed out to them), however, almost always welcome it gratefully.

The basic Help topic, “Field codes: StyleRef field,” provides the usual succinct Instructions, Switches, and Examples and goes on to provide more information about how the field behaves depending on where it is inserted in the document. Another Help topic, “Create a dictionary-style page header,” tells how to use two slightly different StyleRef fields to pick up the first and last word (or heading) on a page. Additional basic information on the use of StyleRef fields can be found in the “Beyond numbering” section of my article “How to set up a document with front matter numbered separately.”

Although this article is intended to go beyond these applications to describe some additional ways to use StyleRef fields referencing character styles, I'll start with some quick tips on creating character styles and inserting StyleRef fields. If you already know how to do this, skip to "Picking up part of a heading," “Suppressing a StyleRef field,” "Repeating form field data in a header/footer," or "Customizing table of contents entries."

How to insert a StyleRef field

There are two ways to insert a StyleRef field (or any other field):

  1. Use the Insert | Field dialog (in Word 2007 and above, use Insert | Text | Quick Parts | Field...). When you open this dialog and select the StyleRef field in the "Field names" list, you will be presented with a list of all the styles currently in use in the document (see Figure 1). Just select the one you want to reference and click OK. It's that easy!

The Field dialog showing insertion of StyleRef field

Figure 1. The Field dialog showing insertion of StyleRef field

  1. Insert the field by hand. Press Ctrl+F9 to insert a pair of field delimiters (the things that look like braces but can't be entered from the keyboard). Between them, type STYLEREF and the exact name of the style you want to reference, enclosed in quotation marks. In the example shown in Figure 1, the field would be { STYLEREF "Heading 1" }.

How to create a character style

Although a StyleRef field is often used to pick up text formatted with a specific paragraph style (as in Figure 1), certain tricks can be accomplished only by using a character style.

A character style is a form of direct font formatting that can combine several font properties. For example, one of Word's built-in character styles (the Hyperlink style) applies blue font color and underlining. If you look at the styles listed in Word's Style dialog (or the Styles and Formatting task pane in Word 2002 or 2003 or Styles pane in Word 2007 and above), the ones marked with a are character styles; those marked with ¶ are paragraph styles. (Word 2007 adds further complexity to the marking, but the character styles are still recognizable.)

You'll see that many of the character styles don't really have any special formatting: they're just defined as "Default Paragraph Font +," which means that they don't add anything to the underlying font formatting except a name (which can be helpful in searching for text so marked or for changing it to a different formatting). The character style you want to create for the tricks described below will be of this type. Here's how to do it.

  1. Open the Style dialog. If you're using Word 2000 or earlier, you'll find Style on the Format menu. In Word 2002 or 2003, you may be able to right-click and select Style… from the shortcut menu. Otherwise, display the Styles and Formatting task pane and click New Style, then skip to step 3. In Word 2007 or above, use the dialog launcher in the Styles group on the Home tab (or the keyboard shortcut Alt+Ctrl+Shift+S) to open the Styles window, then click the New Style button and skip to step 3.

  2. In the Style dialog, select Default Paragraph Font and click New… (see Figure 2). (If you've used the New Style button in the Styles and Formatting task pane in Word 2002/2003 or the Styles window in Word 2007 and above, you can skip this step.)

The Style dialog

Figure 2. The Style dialog

  1. In the New Style dialog, type a name for your style, select Character for the style type, and make sure that Default Paragraph Font is listed for the "based on" style (see Figure 3). Note that the Create New Style from Formatting dialog in Word 2007/2010 will look considerably different from Figure 3 but offers much the same choices.

The New Style dialog

Figure 3. The New Style dialog

  1. Click OK. You're done! To apply this style, select (highlight) the desired text and then select the style from the Style dropdown list on the Formatting toolbar or from the Styles and Formatting task pane in Word 2002/2003 or the Styles pane in Word 2007 and above. (If you use a style frequently, you may want to assign a keyboard shortcut for it.)

Note: If you are creating this style in a document rather than in a template, you can check the “Add to template” box in the New Style dialog to save the style to the template so that it will be available in any new document based on that template. In Word 2007 and above, you can select the radio button labeled “New documents based on this template” to accomplish the same thing.

Picking up part of a heading

One of the most common uses of StyleRef fields is to pick up chapter titles in the headers (“running heads”) of books and other long documents. If Heading 1 is used for the chapter title, this is accomplished by putting a { STYLEREF "Heading 1" } field in the Header, Odd Page Header, and/or Even Page Header.

But what if your chapter title is very long or contains line breaks? Including the entire title will affect the formatting of the header, creating results that are at best unattractive (see Figure 4). If you are the author of the document, you may find it expedient to shorten the title itself, but if you have no control over the title text, here’s the workaround.

The result of using a StyleRef field in the document header

Figure 4. The result of using a StyleRef field in the document header
to pick up a heading that is too long and contains a line break

  1. Create a character style called, say, “Short Title.” Base it on the Default Paragraph Font with no other attributes. That is, the Short Title style does not affect the appearance of your heading at all; it just overlays the paragraph style invisibly. (In the figures, the Short Title style has been given a red font color for illustration purposes.)

  2. Now use the field { STYLEREF "Short Title" } in your header.

  3. Apply the Short Title style to the portion of your heading that you want to appear in your running head (see Figure 5).

The result of using a StyleRef field in the document header

Figure 5. The result of using a StyleRef field in the document header
to pick up a character style applied to part of the heading


  1. You will need to apply the character style to every chapter title, even the ones you want included in their entirety.

  2. Although it is useful to have nonprinting characters displayed when you are doing this, be aware that, even if you carefully select everything except the paragraph mark (¶), Word will still apply the style to the entire paragraph. This means that there will be an unwanted paragraph break in the header. For titles where you have selected the entire title or the last few words of the title, you will have to go back and select just the paragraph mark and press Ctrl+Spacebar to remove the character style. This applies to line breaks as well: if you have a two-line heading, broken with a line break (Shift+Enter) and want to apply your character style to just the second line, no matter how carefully you apply the style to just the text, carefully omitting the line break and paragraph break, you may find that Word "helpfully" applies the style to both, and you will have to go back and remove it (Ctrl+Spacebar).

  3. The StyleRef field (absent any switches) will pick up only the first occurrence of the style on the page (see Figure 6). This means that you can’t pick up noncontiguous parts of the title: you have to select a continuous phrase to be repeated in the header.

Illustrates that a StyleRef field will pick up only the first text

Figure 6. Illustrates that a StyleRef field will pick up only the first text
formatted with the referenced style

  1. The character style can be applied only to some or all of the existing title. It might occur to you that you could fake this by inserting some Hidden text in the existing title (see Figures 7 and 8). Unfortunately (and maddeningly), the Hidden property is the only direct font formatting that the StyleRef field does pick up. This is a limitation of the StyleRef field as opposed to typing directly in the header: you can apply a font format to the StyleRef field itself (that is, you can, for example, make all of this portion of the header italic), but the StyleRef field won’t reflect direct font formatting in your heading (if, for example, you have italicized one or a few words). Figure 9 illustrates this concept.

Shows that a StyleRef field will not pick up Hidden text.

Figure 7. Shows that a StyleRef field will not pick up Hidden text

The text shown in Figure 4, with field codes displayed

Figure 8. The text shown in Figure 4, with field codes displayed
to illustrate that the StyleRef field is present but not displaying anything,
not even as Hidden text

Note that the StyleRef field does not pick up the italics applied to King Lear

Figure 9. Note that the StyleRef field does not pick up the italics applied to King Lear

  1. You may wonder what happens if you still need a line break in your very long title and the part you want to include in the header includes the line break. Well, if you actually use a line break in the title, then there will be a line break in the header. But there is a way around using a line break. As an example, take the very long title in Figure 1: “A Chapter Title That Is Too Long to Fit Comfortably in the Header.” Instead of inserting a line break after “Long,” replace the spaces between all the following words with nonbreaking spaces (Ctrl+Shift+Space). This will force the entire block of text (“to Fit Comfortably in the Header”) to the next line without requiring a line break. You may then, if you like, apply the Short Title style to, say, “A Chapter Title That Is Too Long to Fit” (see Figure 10).

StyleRef field picking up text that appears to have a line break

Figure 10. StyleRef field picking up text that appears to have a line break

Of course, you can also force the heading to wrap by applying a right indent as required, and this may be preferable if you are also creating a table of contents, as the nonbreaking spaces might cause lines in the TOC to wrap short of where you want them to.

Note: The figures in this article are not meant to represent actual documents. Naturally, in a real book or manuscript, there would not be a running head on the first page of a chapter (see below for one way to accomplish that). For purposes of illustration using a single screen shot, the “chapter title” and header appear on the same page. Moreover, default paragraph styles have been used; no effort has been made to approximate the look of a real book.

Suppressing a StyleRef field

As we have seen above (Caveat #4), Hidden formatting is the only font formatting that a StyleRef field picks up. You can use this to your advantage, however, in combination with the default behavior of StyleRef fields:

  1. On any given page, a StyleRef field in a header or footer will pick up the first text on the page that is formatted with the referenced style.

  2. If there is no text on the page formatted with that style, it will look for the last previous text in that style.

What this means for you is that if you have a heading on one page that you want picked up in the headers on subsequent pages but not on the page where it appears, you can accomplish this in one of two ways:

  1. You can precede the heading with an empty, Hidden paragraph in the same style. On the first page, Word will pick up the empty paragraph (it doesn’t actually have to be Hidden as long as it’s empty, but it will need to be Hidden if you don’t want it to take up space). This will work for either paragraph or character styles.

  2. You can include some Hidden text at the beginning of the heading and apply the referenced style to it. This will require a character style applied carefully. As we saw in Caveat #3 above, Word will pick up only the first portion of text formatted with the character style, so you will need to insert at least two characters, format both as Hidden, and format the first with your referenced style. Then format the rest of the paragraph with the character style. Note: Be careful not to include the final paragraph mark in the character style; see Caveat #2 above.

Important Note: As noted in (1) above, an empty paragraph in the referenced style will be picked up by the StyleRef field. If you ever experience problems with missing text in a header or footer that contains a StyleRef field, look for these empty paragraphs. It is helpful to display nonprinting characters, and you can also use the Find dialog to search for the referenced style. One place you may not think to look is in tables: keep in mind that the end-of-cell marker (¤) functions the same as a paragraph mark. If there is a paragraph break before the end of the cell, then an empty paragraph has been created.

Repeating form field data in a header/footer

Creators of protected forms often want the data entered into one form field to be repeated in several other places on the form. The usual way to do this is to use a REF field to cross-reference the built-in bookmark of the form field. This works well in the document body, but REF fields in the header or footer of a protected form do not update automatically, so this solution does not work well for inserting data in a header or footer.

You can, however, do this easily with a StyleRef field.

  1. Again, create a character style. You can give it the same name as the bookmark of your form field (see Figure 11). Base it on the Default Paragraph Font with no other attributes. That is, the character style does not affect the appearance of your form field at all; it just overlays the paragraph style invisibly.

The Text Form Field Options dialog for a form field with the bookmark “Name”

Figure 11. The Text Form Field Options dialog for a form field with the bookmark Name

  1. Apply the style to the form field.

  2. In the header or footer, insert a StyleRef field to pick up the style you created (see Figure 12).

StyleRef field referencing the “Name” character style,

Figure 12. StyleRef field referencing the Name character style,
which has been applied to the Name text form field

The beauty of the StyleRef field is that it updates automatically and instantly, as soon as data is entered in the form field (see Figure 13).

Result of entering a name in the Name text form field

Figure 13. Result of entering a name in the Name text form field

Customizing table of contents entries

Recently I had a question from a user who wanted an unusual type of TOC entry. She was using three separate paragraphs (in three distinct styles) for Author, Title, and Subtitle headings but wanted them combined in a single TOC entry with this format:

Author: Title. Subtitle

One way to accomplish this (though not a good one) would be to let Word build the TOC from the individual headings, with one TOC entry for each author, each title, and each subtitle, and then, when editing was complete, to unlink the TOC and reformat it by hand.

My suggestion, however, was to use TC fields to build the table of contents. To build a TOC based on TC fields, you must insert each field separately, using the Mark Table of Contents Entry dialog. To use the dialog, you select the text you want in the TOC and press Alt+Shift+O, which will open the dialog with the selected text entered. The dialog also allows you to select which TOC the entry will appear in (if you have more than one) and what TOC level the entry will be.

The Mark Table of Contents Entry dialog

Figure 14. The Mark Table of Contents Entry dialog

The field code generated by the entry shown above will be: { TC "A sample heading" \f C \l "2" }

To generate a TOC that uses these fields (and to omit any other entries), you must check the box for “Table entry fields” and clear the check boxes for “Styles” and “Outline levels” in the Table of Contents Options dialog.

The Table of Contents Options dialog

Figure 15. The Table of Contents Options dialog

Inserting TC fields is tedious at best, but it would be especially onerous for a user to type in the text of the three headings to be included in each TC field that would generate an entry in the “Author: Title. Subtitle” format. There must be a better way!

There is, using StyleRef fields. Experimentation proved that the following field would create the desired TOC entry based on three paragraphs in styles named Author, Title, and Subtitle (they may be either paragraph or character styles):

{ TC "{ StyleRef "Author" }: { StyleRef "Title" }. { StyleRef "Subtitle" }" }

Each StyleRef field, when updated using F9, will display the text of the next previous paragraph in the given style, creating a TC field that will generate a TOC entry for the three paragraphs. Moreover, if the TC field is saved as an AutoText entry, it can be easily inserted, without editing, in each location where it is needed.


A TC field containing StyleRef fields may not appear in a paragraph in any of the referenced styles; this will generate an error message. Insert the TC field in a body text paragraph after the last of the included headings.

Because the TOC based on the example shown above will be the main TOC and all entries will be level 1, the \f and \l switches may be omitted (for more on the switches used in TC fields, see Word’s Help topic “Field codes: TC (Table of Contents Entry) field”).

This article copyright © 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2014 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.