Manuscripts and Computer Magic

Published by Lucas Dale on

As a writer, I use Microsoft Word a lot, and as a computer scientist I am very lazy. During the editing process, chapter numbers used to infuriate me no end. I’d add a chapter here, split a chapter there, and lo behold! I’d have to manually renumber every single chapter that came after.

Yeah, nope.

As it turns out, Microsoft Word has these wonderful things called field codes that let you insert dynamic variables into your document.


The field code that gives you automatically updating chapter numbers is called a sequence. Funnily enough, it inserts an incrementing sequence of numbers.

Let’s start with a basic heading. The first thing you do is select the number, then go to Insert > Quick Parts > Field.

In the window that pops up, under Field Names scroll down until you find Seq. Select it, then click on Options.

In the Field codes box, you’ll have to give your sequence a name. This is just a unique identifier for each sequence in your document, e.g. SEQ chapters.

Next, you have to choose what Formatting you want. I go for the One, Two, Three… and the Title case options, but play around until you find ones you like. With each option, make sure to click Add to Field to add it to the sequence.

When you click OK, your final field code should look something like this:

As you can see, SEQ is the field name, chapters is the identifier and everything preceded by a \* is a formatting option. Click OK again and you should still see Chapter One.

The magic happens when you add multiple sequence fields. Copy and paste the heading a couple of times, then hit ctrl + a to select everything and F9 to update all fields. If all goes well, you should see it automatically update!

Note that for the sequence to work correctly, you need to use the same identifier for all the different fields. If you want to add in another sequence, say for parts, all you need to do is create a new field with a different identifier.


A quick aside: if you use actual heading styles for your parts and chapters, you can jump between them really easily using the Navigation Pane, which you can get to by pressing ctrl + f.

This is really useful if, like me, you write in hoards of tiny chapters.

Word Count

It took me a lot longer to figure out how to insert a field for the word count, as it turns out field codes are quite iffy to work with. I finally found this article to help me, so all credit goes to Steve Cooper for this!

Inserting the actual word count is simple, as there is a NUMWORDS field specifically for this. The #,##0 option formats the number with commas between the thousands.

However, this gives the exact word count, whereas usually in a manuscript you’d want it rounded to the nearest hundred. Similarly to Microsoft Excel, there is actually a formula field code, the documentation for which can be found here. It has its own round function, which you can see working like this:

The ROUND function takes two arguments, the number to round and the number of decimal places to round to. To get a number to the nearest hundred, you divide it by 100, round it to the nearest integer and then multiply it by 100. Hitting OK with the above formula should give you 1000 in the field.

Unfortunately, the following won’t work:

Even if you type =ROUND( { NUMWORDS } / 100, 0 ) * 100 (the curly braces signify a field code), Word won’t recognise NUMWORDS and it will result in a syntax error. While annoying, there is a way to get round this.

You’re going to have to insert a basic formula with a placeholder number, and then manually insert a field code inside the field code. Once you’ve entered the field, select it and right click > Toggle Field Codes.

You should now see the field code in your actual document.

Select the placeholder number and press ctrl + F9 to insert a new field code. You should see curly braces appear around the number. Then, all you have to do is change the number to NUMWORDS.

Press F9 again to update the field, and if all is good you should see the word count, rounded to the nearest hundred!

There we go! I hope you found this tutorial useful, and if you have any questions left, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. 😀

Categories: Blog


Steve Cooper · February 6, 2020 at 11:08 pm

Glad you found the link useful! Good luck with your writing

    Lucas Dale · February 28, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks! To you, too!

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