Stepping back from a problem

Sometimes I get so focused on an editing or formatting problem that I lose sight of the bigger picture.

Recently I was adding a list of graphics to a document. The author wanted the list to display the figure number and title but not the explanatory text after it. This meant having only part of each caption show up in the automatic list of figures. I knew that this could be done and found the instructions on a Microsoft support website under How to create a table of contents by marking text in Word. Briefly, in my understanding of the instructions (and this worked for me), the whole caption should have one paragraph style applied (I used Caption), and the part to be used in the automatic list of figures should have a different style applied to that text only. Then it’s possible to define a custom table of contents based on that one style applied to only part of the caption text.

I did this with the first caption, but the whole thing caption kept showing up in the list of figures. I could not discern the problem, so after a while I gave up but applied the styles to the rest of the captions in the document. I was confident that I had followed the directions, so I decided to format the rest of the captions the same way and return to the problem the next day.

When I opened the file again, I saw that somebody else had refreshed the list of figures, and all the captions displayed properly (with figure number and title only) except two: the first one and another. So I discovered that my style application worked in all but two places, and one place was the very first caption that I’d been struggling with. If only I had refreshed the automatic list I would have seen that what I had done was working—most of the time. With only two captions not displaying properly, I was able to recognize the problem: the character style for the figure number and title somehow were applied to the entire paragraph in those two cases. I cleared the formatting and reapplied the styles, and the list worked as it was supposed to.

So I found out that sometime it helps to not concentrate on what isn’t working but on what is. In this case, at least, it helped me spot the problem.

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