Smart References

A smart cross-referencing feature for Google Docs

Smart Cross References for Google Docs

Smart References is a cross-referencing feature for Google Docs, which can be installed from the Add-Ons Menu inside the Docs app. A Smart Reference is a text element that contains a reference to a heading or numbered list item elsewhere in the document. When the document is changed, such as by updating a header or list item number, all the Smart References in the document can be synchronized at once so they display the new header text and list numbers.

Why Use Smart References?

Use Smart References instead of regular text to reduce hassle and potential for mistakes when maintaining documents that are structured as numbered lists or that make frequent reference to previous sections. Good examples might be the clauses in a contract or a lengthy dissertation.

Once the Add On is installed, Smart References provides a sidebar which shows the document outline, including headings and numbered list items, with the start of the paragraph.

Creating Smart References

Double click on an element in the sidebar to navigate to that place in the document.

To insert a Smart Reference, select a document element from the sidebar with a single click. This will highlight the element and enable the “Insert reference” button. Place your cursor in the document at the position you want the reference. Then click on the “Insert reference” button at the bottom of the sidebar. Now you have inserted A Smart Reference.

A Screenshot of the Smart References toolbar being used

Synchronizing References

Smart References look like ordinary text, but they are also a type of hyperlink. Smart References use the link to maintain a relationship with the referenced heading or list item. You cannot use this hyperlink for navigation. If you wish to turn the smart reference into ordinary text, you can remove the hyperlink.

After changes are made to the document (such as adding list items), the references in the document may no longer be correct and need to be updated. From the Add-Ons menu, select “Smart References” > “Update references”, or click on the “Update references” button on the sidebar. All the Smart References in the document are updated to the new values.

A screenshot of the Smart References menu action being used


We’ve also produced a video tutorial for the AddOn on our YouTube channel. The video covers:

  • What cross-references in Google Docs are, and why they are a problem!
  • How to install the Smart References Add On
  • Creating new Smart References
  • Updating all the References in a document
  • Highlighting references with removed targets.