Running chapter headers in Microsoft Word

I’m in the process of writing up my doctoral thesis, and have had to wrestle with a lot of Word formatting. The biggest difficulty I had was separating the whole document into chapters. I wanted each chapter to start with a big heading like “Chapter 1 Introduction”, and to have that title repeated in the header of each subsequent page. It’s quite fiddly to do, but very useful once you’ve got it setup.

I’m still working in the ancient Word 2003 at home, but the same principles work in later versions as well. The only differences are usually in the menu structure.

Section breaks

This is the most important part of the process. You need to insert a section break between each chapter of your document so that Word knows how your layout works. You can optionally make it a “continuous” break, which means the chapters run directly together, or a “next page” break, which means the new chapter starts on a new page.

  • Word 2003: Click the “Insert” menu then “Break…”
  • Word 2007/2010: Click the “Page Layout” ribbon tab then “Breaks”

Use a heading style

I recommend using the built-in “Heading 1” style for your chapter headings. You can modify it, or use a different named style if you want. Either way, make sure you are consistent and that you don’t use the same style for anything else.

If you’re not familiar with styles in Word, then I really recommend learning about them from the links below. They can make formatting much easier!

Different first-page headers

You usually don’t want the running header to appear on the first page of a chapter, since you already have the heading there anyway. There are a couple of ways to do this, but my preferred approach is to tell Word that the first page of each section will have a different header.

Click on the first page of your first chapter, and then open the “Page Setup” dialog:

  • Word 2003: Click the “File” menu then “Page Setup”.
  • Word 2007/2010: Click the “Page Layout” ribbon tab, then click the little arrow at the bottom-right of the “Page Setup” group.

When the “Page Setup” dialog is open, click on the “Layout” tab. Under the “Headers and footers” section, check the box labelled “Different first page”, then click OK.

You will need to repeat this process for each chapter.

Add the running header

Finally, we can add our running header. Open the header on the 2nd page or later of any chapter. Now you need to insert a field which will automatically display your chapter heading. To do this, open the “Field” dialog:

  • Word 2003: Click the “Insert” menu and then “Field…”
  • Word 2007/2010: Click on the “Insert” ribbon tab, then “Quick Parts” (in the Text group), then “Fields”

The Field dialog should have a “Categories” drop-down box at the top-left. Select the “(All)” category. In the “Field names” box underneath it, scroll down and click on “StyleRef”. Over on the right, a box labelled “Style names” should appear. Click on the name of the style you used for chapter headings, such as “Heading 1”.

Click on OK, and your running chapter heading should now appear throughout your document.

Tips and problems

How do I include heading numbers?
If you are using automated heading numbering then the default StyleRef field probably won’t show it. Follow the same process to insert a second StyleRef field into your header. However, don’t click OK on the Field dialog just yet. First, check the box labelled “Insert paragraph number”, and then click OK.

That should insert the number as a separate field. You can move or copy-paste it to wherever you want in the header.

The running title is missing on some pages
If you find that the running header stops at some point in your document, then you may have broken the link between headers. Open up the first header which is causing a problem, and try enabling “Link to previous”.

If that doesn’t work (or you deliberately disabled “Link to previous”) then you could try just copy-pasting a working header in there. The field code should automatically update to display the suitable running header wherever you paste it.

I changed a chapter title, but the running header still shows the old title
Open the header, click on the title, and press F9. That should tell Word to update the field.

The running header isn’t displaying a chapter title
Make sure you aren’t using the chapter title style for anything else. The StyleRef field looks for the latest instance of the specified style, so using it for other purposes will cause problems.

I'm a software engineer at Vertual Ltd., working on a virtual reality training system for radiotherapy. In the past, I've also worked on other educational technologies, web development, and games programming.

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20 comments on “Running chapter headers in Microsoft Word
  1. david says:

    Is it possible to have multiple headings on the same line? My problem is a document I am working on as the paragraph title as the first few words, then the praragraph follows. I only want those first few words as the spoecific heading (for the TOC) but not the rest of the paragraph. I know the easy solution is for a section break, but demands from above tell me I cant move anything – it must stay as one solid paragraph and it seems I can’t apply a heading to a part of the same paragraph. Please let me know if this is possible.

  2. Peter R. Bloomfield says:

    Hi David. The TOC picks up “Outline Levels” assigned to portions of text. The default heading styles have outline levels automatically included. However, I think you can apply them to any piece of text manually as well, so that it appears in the TOC.

    I’m afraid I’m not on a PC just now so I can’t check exactly how you do it. On Word 2003, I think you can use the Outlining Toolbar (available from the View menu). On later versions, I think you have to use Outline View. Here’s an article with a bit more information:

    http://wordprocessing.about.com/od/wordprocessingsoftware/ss/Create-A-Table-Of-Contents-In-Word-2010_2.htm

  3. Evil Overlord says:

    Thanks! Solved the exact problem I had.

  4. CrazyOliv says:

    Works perfectely well. Thank you.

    For the sake of us all, phD buddies, does someone know how to compell MSWord to :
    1) locate a big figure (e.g. half page, inside a single cell table with numbered caption, always on top, after the cross reference,…)
    2) without breaking the text!!!!!

  5. kannan says:

    Happy Holidays, David. And thank you so much for your posts.
    Could you please tell us how to create the following style.

    * A bullet (this is the heading): This is the detailed discussion of the heading. The bullet heading may vary in length. I want to format paragraphs such that the discussion of the bullet starts, at the same tab distance, on each line (as bullet heading). As examples, please see the three bullets starting with the current bullet.

    * Next bullet: Discussion of ‘next bullet’.

    * Thank you: I appreciate any suggestions you can provide.

    Kannan

  6. Finley Eversole says:

    I tried following the above instructions to separate chapters in my books. However the section break tab is apparently not working and is not shown in the darker typeface of the other options. Is there a way to turn this on?

  7. Peter R. Bloomfield says:

    @CrazyOliv: Positioning figures and captions is always painful in Word. If you figure out how to do it sensibly, let us know! :)

  8. Peter R. Bloomfield says:

    @kannan: What you’re suggesting is possible, but a little tricky to setup. You’d need to create two separate styles, both based on characters instead of paragraphs (that means you can have more than one style on a line).

    The first style would be for the heading, and you’d need to set outline numbering on it so that the Table of Contents will detect it. I recommend looking up the Word documentation for that, as it’s not always straightforward.

    The second style would be for the body of the bullet text. I think you’d be able to set a hanging indent so that everything after the first line is indented. You’d have to manually put tabs between the heading and the start of the first line of body text though, so that it lines up with the hanging indent.

  9. Peter R. Bloomfield says:

    @Finley Eversole: Breaks might be disabled if you’re editing something other than the main document (e.g. if you’re editing the header or footer). Make sure to click in the main document text before trying to add section breaks.

    If you’re still having problems, these pages might help:

    Word 2003: http://www.computergaga.com/word/2003/intermediate/formatting_pages/insert_section_breaks.html

    Word 2007 onwards: http://pcmcourseware.com/blog/2008/10/29/inserting-a-section-break-in-word-2007

  10. Kate says:

    Oh dude, you star! Thank you for saving my chops; I’ve been wrestling with this problem for a week now. My PhD looks all the better for your help, thank you :)

  11. ShadowWriter says:

    Many thanks. I am working on preparing a novel for epublishing, and couldn’t figure out how to get the Chapter AND Chapter number in the header, since they are on separate lines. Your explanation was clear and easy. Thanks again.

  12. Ranjit Ratnaike says:

    Greetings from Adelaide Australia!
    A short note to thank you very much for your very clear instructions. i have learned a lot from you despite ‘dwelling’ for weeks on the intricacies of page numbering, section breaks etc. etc. for a long time to learn to format my second novel.

    Thanks again and all the best in your work!

    Ranjit Ratnaike MD

  13. John McMullen says:

    Something I just noticed while doing the reference to a character style which might act as a gotcha for someone. If the character style applies to the whole paragraph, Word 2010 helpfully applies it to the paragraph marker too, so your heading suddenly contains a paragraph break. The only way I’ve been able to fix this is by manually selecting the paragraph marker (hit End, then Space-right arrow) and *remove* the character style (usually Control-Space does it fine). This is a pain, but I don’t have that many instances of the character style taking up the whole paragraph.

  14. Corey says:

    My office is having a problem with formatting old precedent documents.

    The way we usually format our documents is the body of the document first and the title page last. To accomplish this we use next page breaks so our page numbers don’t show up on the title page and it works 100% of the time. My problem is with our older precedents when we include next page or section breaks it creates this giant gap on the very last page. When you double click to put your cursor there it opens the header. The kicker is that the header and footer are spaced normally.

    Its not the biggest deal but its a nuisance that we come across all too often.

    Hope my description makes sense! Anything would help!

    • Hi Corey,

      I’m not sure I understand the problem. Is there a reason why putting the title page first doesn’t work? I always find putting in a section break after it makes that approach work well for me. That way, the page numbering and the header/footer can be totally independent from the rest of the document.

  15. Janice says:

    Hi Peter,

    at first thank you for your clear instructions. They helped a lot. Still I am having problems with my header. After my title page I inserted the Content. I managed to avoid the running header on the first page of the Content (I used a section break after the title page) but now there is the running header on the second page of the content (“0. Content”). Is there a way to get get rid of that too?

    • Hi Janice. It sounds like you need to tell Word that you want the first page of each section to have a different header/footer. There are instructions for that in the blog post above, in the section entitled “Different first-page headers”.

  16. Ernest says:

    Hi Peter
    Good stuff and very useful. After following your instructions, my running headers are all in capital letters (since my chapter heading are all caps). now, pls, how do i get change headers into small letters?

    Best

  17. Barry says:

    All I can say is thanks! This has been troubling me for ages.

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Avid Insight is my personal blog about various software, programming, electronics, and occasionally academic things. I also have a few past projects linked in the navigation menu above, so feel free to look around!
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