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Table of contents word

How to Create a Table of Contents in Microsoft Word

When you’re creating or editing a long document, you’ll probably have to create a table of contents. That might sound like a chore, but fortunately, you can do it in just a few clicks. Then, if you change the document, Word can update the table of content instantly.

Best of all, Word includes hyperlinks to the various sections in your table of contents, so it isn’t just a visual aid for printed documents, but it’s also perfect to make easy-to-browse online documents and PDFs with.

Creating the table of contents in Word itself is simple, but the tricky part is getting it to work the way you want. In this tutorial, I’ll show you everything you need to make a simple, auto-generated table of contents, and then get it to look the way you want in every version of Microsoft Word.

How to Make a Table of Contents in Microsoft Word (Screencast)

You can follow along using your own document, or if you prefer, download the zip file included for this tutorial. It contains a document called The Age of Einstein.docx, which is a public domain physics textbook (credit to the author, Professor Frank W.K. Firk).

Watch the video screencast above or follow the written tutorial instructions below for more detail on how to make a table of contents in Word.

Creating Your Table of Contents in Word

There are a few ways of creating a table of contents in Word, but only two that you’ll ever use

  • Create them automatically from built-in styles
  • Create them from your custom styles

These methods work mostly the same in Windows and Mac versions of Microsoft Word.

Using MS Word built-in styles is the fastest and most common technique, and using custom styles takes only a little more work. Sometimes, you’ll want to use both techniques in the same document. Once you have a table of contents (TOC) in a document, you can format it with its own styles. You don’t want to format the TOC like regular text, because the formatting can easily get wiped out.

How the Textbook is Organized

Before doing anything to the document, let’s see how it’s organized. Page 1 is the title, page 2 is blank and will hold the table of contents, page 3 is the preface, and after that comes the text. As you scroll down, notice that headings and subheadings are formatted.

The textbook as level 1, 2 and 3 headings.

The best way to see the structure of the document is with the Navigation Pane. (In some versions of Word for Mac, it may be called the Document Map Pane.)

In Windows, go to the View tab, then click the check box to enable the Navigation Pane.

The Word Navigation Pane is a great way of looking through a document.

On the Mac, click the Sidebar option to show the drop-down menu. Click the arrow next to the option and click Navigation. (On older versions of the Mac software, the option is called Document Map Pane.)

On the Mac, use Sidebar > Navigation to navigate through a document.

On your Mac or PC, go back to the Home tab if you’re not already there. Keep your eye on the Styles box on the ribbon, and click the items in the pane to navigate through the book.

Notice that the items with whole numbers – like 2. Understanding the Physical Universe – are formatted as Heading 1, and items with decimals – like 2.1 Reality and Pure Thought – are formatted as Heading 2. There are also a few decimal items – like 4.5 Space Travel – that are formatted as Heading 3.

Tip: when creating a document, the shortcuts for applying the Heading 1, 2 and 3 styles are Ctrl-Alt-1, Ctrl-Alt-2, and Ctrl-Alt-3 (and Command-Opt-1, Command-Opt -2, and Command-Opt-3 on the Mac).

Generating a Table of Contents Using Built-In Header Styles in Word

Word can now turn those Heading styles into table of contents entries. Click at the top of page 2. (Tip: in Windows, press Ctrl-G, type 2, then press Enter. On the Mac, press Command-Opt-G, type 2, then press Return.)

In Windows, go to the References tab on the ribbon, click the Table of Contents button on the left, then choose one of the two built-in tables from the list. Note that the thumbnails show that Headings 1, 2 and 3 will be included.

It’s almost the same on the Mac. Go to the Insert menu, choose Index and Tables, then pick one of the formats on the left and click OK. This dialog box also shows that Headings 1-3 will be included.

You can insert a table of contents in Word just by clicking one of the samples. (Example shown is on Windows.)

As soon as you choose one, the table of contents gets inserted starting on page 2, and Word automatically inserts a couple of more pages, so it all fits. In Windows, you can Ctrl-click one of the items, and it will hyperlink to the item in the document.

A table of contents is a field that you can update in MS Word. In Windows, fields have a gray background.

This works great, but there’s one problem. Before the Introduction, there is a Preface that should be included in the table of contents. And just before Appendix A1 is the heading for the Appendix, and that should also be included. But they weren’t, because they’re both formatted with a custom style called Large heading, and custom styles don’t get included in the default table of contents. The second method of creating table of contents in Word will fix that.

Creating a Table of Contents From Custom Styles in Word

Word can include any styles in a table of contents. We just have to tell it which ones to choose. And we can update the table, rather than having to delete it and start over.

In Windows, go back to the References tab, click the Table of Contents button, then near the bottom of the menu, choose Custom Table of Contents. Click the Options button near the bottom of the dialog box to display the Table of Contents Options dialog box.

On the Mac, go to back to the Insert menu and choose Index and Tables. In the Table of Contents section, click the Options button.

On the Mac or PC the Table of Contents Options dialog box shows that the Heading 1 style will have TOC level 1, the Heading 2 style will have TOC level 2, and the Heading 3 style will have TOC level 3.

Word uses its built-in styles to determine what goes into the table of contents. (Windows example)

Scroll down to the bottom of the list (on the Mac, you’ll use the down slider). Then, in the box for Large heading, type a 1 to make it level 1. Table of Content levels can come from more than one style.

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To include a custom style in the table of contents, assign a heading level to it.

Click OK in the Table of Contents Options dialog, then OK again in the Table of Contents dialog box. When Word displays a message asking if you want to replace the table, choose Yes. The Preface and Appendix are now both included in the table of contents.

After adding custom styles to the TOC list, text formatted with those styles will appear in the table.

Manually Updating the Table of Contents in Word

There are other times when you’ll want to update the table manually. This is handy when you change the text of one of the headings and want the change reflected in the table of contents.

Scroll down to the page with the preface. At the top of the page replace PREFACE with FORWARD. Make sure it still uses the Large heading style.

Go back to the top of the table of contents and click in it. Note that it has a gray background; that means it’s a field, and fields can usually be updated.

Click the Update Table button either on the TOC itself (that button doesn’t always appear) or on the References tab, and the first entry changes to FORWARD. (On the Mac, right-click the table and choose Update Field from the pop-up menu. Choose the Update entire table option and click OK.)

Update the table of contents with either of the Update Table buttons or by right-clicking on the table and selecting Update field. (Windows example shown here.)

Now that the table of contents displays the correct text, we can apply nicer formatting though.

How to Modify Table of Contents Styles in Word

Each heading level of the table of contents has its own style that’s automatically applied. All we have to do is change the formatting of the styles to change the table’s appearance, here’s how:

  1. In Windows, in the References tab of the ribbon, click again on the Table of Contents button and choose Custom Table of Contents, near the bottom. In the Table of Contents dialog box, click Modify.
  2. On the Mac, click Insert > Index and Tables. On the left s >Use the Style dialog box in Word to choose the heading levels you want to format.

Format the style with Arial or Helvetica, 12 points, bold. Then click OK.

Modify the style of a TOC item is the same as modifying the style of any other text in Word.

  • Repeat for the TOC 2 style, and set it to Arial or Helvetica, 12 points, normal.
  • Repeat for the TOC 3 style, and set it to Arial or Helvetica, 11 points, normal.

The table of contents should now look like this:

After editing the table of contents styles and updating the table, you’ll see the new formatting.

Conclusion

When you have a long document, you don’t have to fear creating a table of contents. Whether you’re using Windows or a Mac, you can insert one in just a few clicks, then use the same dialog box to change the formatting.

As you learned in this table of contents tutorial, remember not to apply formatting directly to the table, because it can get wiped out if you replace it. If you make any changes to the Word document itself, remember to click the top of the TOC and update it. Leave a comment below if you have any trouble making or tweaking your table of contents.

To learn more about working with Microsoft Word, study the following tutorials:

Insert a table of contents

In this course:

A table of contents in Word is based on the headings in your document.

Create the table of contents

Put your cursor where you want to add the table of contents.

Go to References > Table of Contents. and choose an automatic style.

If you make changes to your document that affect the table of contents, update the table of contents by right-clicking the table of contents and choosing Update Field.

To update your table of contents manually, see Update a table of contents.

If you have missing entries

Missing entries often happen because headings aren’t formatted as headings.

For each heading that you want in the table of contents, select the heading text.

Go to Home > Styles, and then choose Heading 1.

Update your table of contents.

To update your table of contents manually, see Update a table of contents.

Create the table of contents

Word uses the headings in your document to build an automatic table of contents that can be updated when you change the heading text, sequence, or level.

Click where you want to insert the table of contents – usually near the beginning of a document.

Click References > Table of Contents and then choose an Automatic Table of Contents style from the list.

Note: If you use a Manual Table of Contents style, Word won’t use your headings to create a table of contents and won’t be able to update it automatically. Instead, Word will use placeholder text to create the look of a table of contents so you can manually type each entry into the table of contents. To update your manual table of contents, see Update a table of contents.

If you want to Format or customize your table of contents, you can. For example, you can change the font, the number of heading levels, and whether to show dotted lines between entries and page numbers.

If you have missing entries

Missing entries often happen because headings aren’t formatted as headings.

For each heading that you want in the table of contents, select the heading text.

Go to Home > Styles, and then choose Heading 1.

Update your table of contents.

To update your table of contents manually, see Update a table of contents.

Put your cursor where you want to add the table of contents.

Go to References > Table of Contents, and choose Insert Table of Contents.

If you make changes in your document that affect the table of contents, do the following:

Click or tap in the table of contents,

Go to References > Table of Contents, and choose Update Table of Contents.

For more detailed ways of updating the table of contents, or to create a table of contents, use the Open in Word command to open the document in your desktop version of Word (Windows or Mac).

To learn more, see steps for creating a table of contents in Word for Windows or Mac.

Word Tips — How to Create a Table of Contents in Word

Lesson 15: How to Create a Table of Contents in Word

How to create a table of contents in Word

Imagine you’re working with a really long document in Microsoft Word, like an academic paper or a big report. Depending on the project, it might be dozens or even hundreds of pages long! When a document is this large, it can be difficult to remember which page has what information. Fortunately, Word allows you to insert a table of contents, making it easy to organize and navigate your document.

A table of contents is just like the list of chapters at the beginning of a book. It lists each section in the document and the page number where that section begins. A really basic table of contents might look like this:

You could create a table of contents manually—typing the section names and page numbers—but it would take a lot of work. And if you ever decide to rearrange your sections or add more information, you’ll have to update everything all over again. However, with the right formatting, Word can create and update a table of contents automatically.

We’ll use Word 2013 to show you how to create a table of contents, but you can use the exact same method in Word 2010 or Word 2007.

Step 1: Apply heading styles

If you’ve already read our Styles lesson, you know they’re an easy way to add professional text formatting to different parts of your document. Styles also serve another important purpose: adding a hidden layer of organization and structure to your document.

If you apply a heading style, you’re telling Word that you’ve started a new part of your document. When you insert the table of contents, it will create a section for each heading. In the table of contents above, each chapter uses a heading style, so there are four sections.

To apply a heading style, select the text you want to format, then choose the desired heading in the Styles group on the Home tab.

Step 2: Insert the table of contents

Now for the easy part! Once you’ve applied heading styles, you can insert your table of contents in just a few clicks. Navigate to the References tab on the Ribbon, then click the Table of Contents command. Select a built-in table from the menu that appears, and the table of contents will appear in your document.

As you can see in the image below, the table of contents uses the heading styles in your document to determine where each section begins. Sections that begin with a Heading 2 or Heading 3 style will be nested within a Heading 1 style, much like a multilevel list.

A table of contents also creates links for each section, allowing you to navigate to different parts of your document. Just hold the Ctrl key on your keyboard and click to go to any section.

Step 3: Update as needed

If you edit or add to your document, it’s easy to update the table of contents. Just select the table of contents, click Update Table, and choose Update Entire Table in the dialog box that appears. The table of contents will then update to reflect any changes.

No matter how large your document may be, you can see there’s nothing complicated about creating a table of contents. If you want even more control over how your table of contents appears, check out this tutorial from Microsoft on Taking a Table of Contents to the Next Level.

How to Create a Table of Contents in Word in 7 Easy Steps

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Look at the nearest Microsoft Word document you have. There’s a good chance that it’s a document that’s just a few pages long. And without a Word table of contents.

But pick up software documentation or a research report. It wouldn’t be called a “professional document” without a pretty well-formatted Table of Contents.

You shouldn’t look at the job of making a Table of Contents (we will occasionally call it a TOC also) as a chore. Making a TOC isn’t only for dense reports or your next bestseller. It can be for something as simple as a daily journal or a school assignment. You should create a Table of Contents whenever appropriate.

Microsoft Word makes it easy. We will look into a few ways to create a Table of Contents in Word.

But first, let’s go into the benefits of a Table of Contents for a Word document.

Why is a Table of Contents so essential?

Are TOCs relevant when we have bookmarks and advanced search features on digital devices? The short answer is — Yes. A Table of Contents isn’t just for navigating long documents.

Here are five benefits you should immediately look at:

  1. It gives the reader a bird’s eye view of the document. A TOC is like an outline. At a glance, you can see how a document will flow from one topic to the next.
  2. It makes a document look professional. A document with a TOC looks more organized and professional than a document that lacks one.
  3. It is a key organizational aid for the author. Think of it like a roadmap and the first draft for a TOC can help you arrange your thoughts (and even brainstorm).
  4. It makes a document easier to discuss. A TOC can signal the quality of the document. Your teacher or your book agent can tell at a glance if the material is worth a read by just glancing at the table of contents.
  5. It gives you a learning path. A TOC is a well-ordered series of steps. Steal them from an instructional book to understand the learning path on any subject of your choice.

Check out this quick video on how to create a table of contents in Word:

How to Create Table of Contents in Word

1. Format your document using heading styles. Select each chapter in your document and apply Heading Styles to them. Here, you are marking up the section headers so that Word can recognize them.

Go to Ribbon > Home > Styles. Select the text and apply headings for all the text you want to include in the table of contents.

You can create a hierarchy within the main chapters with the help of the heading styles. For instance, use Heading 1 for new sections or chapters. Heading 2 for subsections within the section, and Heading 3 for smaller units or topics inside them.

Word scans the document for any text formatted as either Heading 1, 2, or 3 and then uses these to create the format for the TOC.

2. Position the Table of Contents on the page. Place the cursor on the specific position where you want the TOC to appear in your document. This is commonly somewhere at the beginning of the document.

4. Click the Table of Contents command. Go to Ribbon > References > Table of Contents. Choose from one of the two automatic types available. The only difference between the two is the heading of «Contents» or «Table of Contents» at the top.

5. The Table of Contents is inserted automatically. Word scans the document and uses the heading styles to construct the order of the sections and subsections and their page numbers. This is a barebones TOC and you can continue to work with this and make it more stylish.

6. Update the Table of Contents anytime. You can always update a Table of Contents that has been created automatically. Update the table if you change the heading styles, rearrange the contents, or change the text. Also, update it if you make any changes to the content that affects the page numbers.

To update a table of contents that was created automatically, click References > Update Table.

Choose to Update page numbers only or Update entire table if you want to update the page numbers and the text.

7. Create a Table of Contents manually. When the automatic method is so effortless, why would you feel the need to make one manually? There could be two reasons:

  • The document is without any styles which Word can recognize.
  • The document has too much of variety makes an automatic TOC difficult.

To create a manual table, go to References > Table of Contents > Click the dropdown to reveal the option for Manual Table.

Microsoft Word inserts a TOC with placeholders which you can now edit. You can modify this with your own fonts and colors. Do remember that you also have to insert the page numbers manually too.

A TOC created manually cannot be updated automatically.

You do not have to settle for the basic Table of Contents that Microsoft Word creates for you. You can modify any TOC and even create a custom Table of Contents of your own.

How to customize the Table of Contents

You can easily customize a TOC with the Table of Contents dialog box. Go to References > Table of Contents > Custom Table of Contents to launch the dialog.

Any changes you make here will be visible in the Print Preview and Web Preview windows.

Seven advanced techniques to customize the TOC

1. Choose a different format for the TOC

You can change an entire table by choosing a different format. In the General section, expand the dropdown for Formats and choose an appearance.

2. Change the appearance of the items in the TOC

Remember, the appearance of your TOC is ultimately controlled by style definitions. You may want to tweak the overall look of the TOC by creating your own styles for the headings. These modified styles can be saved alongside the in-built ones and applied across the document for a consistent look. Follow these steps.

1. Click Modify. If the Modify button is grayed out, change Formats to From template.

2. In the Styles list, click the level that you want to change and then click Modify. Here, TOC 1 corresponds to heading level 1 in your document, TOC 2 to heading level 2, TOC 3 to heading 3 and so on.

3. In the Modify Style dialog box, you can change the font or its color. Make any other formatting change like text indentation and then click OK.

4. Before you click OK, you can choose whether the style change applies to the current document or to all future documents. To save it for future use, click the checkbox for Add to the Styles gallery.

3. Change the levels of the style headings shown

A TOC can be itemized, or you can just include the major sections. The Show levels number allows you to change the number of levels displayed in your table of contents. The “Levels” here refers to the style headings you have applied to your sections.

For instance: H1, H2, H3… etc. If you set it on 2, then all text with the Heading 1 style or the Heading 2 style is displayed.

4. Change or add dot leaders in the TOC

Dot leaders are the lines or dots that connect the items in the index to page numbers. These leader lines are mentioned in many style guides as a necessary part of thesis documents.

In the Table of Contents dialog box, click the dropdown for the Tab leader list and select the dotted line option. Alternatively, choose the leader line you want or select “none” to remove it from the TOC.

5. Add a non-heading style

Word won’t include a non-heading style when it inserts an automatic TOC. By default, Word only includes headings 1 through 9. But it gives you a method to include any other style you create in the index. Let’s say you want to add another heading called “A Brief Guide” at the top of the content and the TOC.

In the Table of Contents dialog box, click the Options button to open this screen:

Right now, it maps the styles in use only to the TOC levels. As you can see, the three styles, Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3 are mapped as levels 1. 2, and 3.

Go down the boxes until you find Title, which has no mapped TOC level. Enter 1 to map Title to the TOC top level.

Click OK twice to exit the dialogs. Word will prompt you to replace the contents. Click Yes to replace the TOC.

6. Create a clickable Table of Contents

Creating a hyperlinked Table of Contents is expected in the digital age. Navigation is faster. It is also another condition to submit a thesis or dissertation.

Click the Use hyperlinks instead of page numbers checkbox.

Also, uncheck the Show page numbers box if you just want to use the hyperlinks.

7. Place a simple border around the Table of Contents

You can use Word’s Shapes feature to insert a border around the TOC. Set Shape Fill to “No Fill” and then add Shape Styles or use Format Shape to design the look of the pseudo-border around the table.

Remember to add Table of Contents to your documents

The automatic Table of Contents feature is a time saver. But to catch the eye, you need to dive into different styles and custom tables. To sum up:

  1. Structure your document.
  2. Decide the levels you want to display.
  3. Change the style attributes to match your needs.

As you begin making your own, you will have your own questions. Hopefully, this guide has illustrated the basic process well enough for you to take the plunge. Are you more comfortable with Table of Contents now?

If you are looking to sharpen your Microsoft Office skills, check out our Microsoft Word course to learn time-saving tips and tricks for formatting your documents.

Get your free Word shortcuts cheatsheet!

Download the print-ready shortcut cheatsheet for Word.

Saikat is a writer who hunts for the latest tricks in Microsoft Office and web apps. He doesn’t want to get off the learning curve, so a camera and a harmonica claim an equal share of his free time.

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