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When Automatic Footnote Renumbering Fails in Word

Updated: May 17, 2022

This should not happen, because Word automatically renumbers the remaining footnotes if a footnote is deleted. I have experienced this many times. However, recently, I deleted a couple of footnotes, and the remaining ones were not renumbered.

I was worried, because footnotes and endnotes in Word are vulnerable to corruption. I had to get to the bottom of this at once. I Googled the problem

The search turned up an article by a well-known figure in the Microsoft Word world, Allen Wyatt. I own a couple of his books; they are excellent. This was the article I found:

My heart sank when I saw that there could be multiple causes. The first solution offered did not seem to apply to my case, because I always edit with Track Changes on, and up to now footnotes had always been correctly automatically renumbered. I skimmed through the rest of the solutions. They were for the case when Track Changes was not used.

It seemed that I was up against it. I tried the last solution anyway, but it didn't work.

There was nothing for it now but to try the first solution. I copied the document to another folder and accepted all the tracked changes. To my surprise, it worked! The footnotes were now correctly renumbered.

As Allen Wyatt explains in the article, in a document with Track Changes on, when footnotes are deleted, they are marked for deletion but are not physically removed, so the numbering is not changed. As soon as the tracked changes are accepted, the deleted footnotes are physically removed, and the footnotes are automatically renumbered. In my document, I turned the tracked changes display on in the original document, looked for the footnotes I had deleted, and accepted the deletions. The footnotes were now correctly numbered.

Some time after this episode, I received a document in which the footnotes were numbered like this: 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, ..., 35. I copied the document to another folder, accepted all the changes, and checked the footnote numbering. It was now perfect. I now knew what to do. I turned the tracked changes display on in the original document, located the deleted footnote, and accepted the deletion. Problem solved!

This leaves one unexplained question. Why were footnotes automatically renumbered when I deleted them earlier in other documents, all of which had Track Changes on? I still do not know.

Some day, I hope to dig deeper and uncover the reason.


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