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Table of Contents

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Making a Table of Contents

It is easy to get a professional-looking table of contents generated for you by your word-processing software. Not only will the table look good but the headings are ‘active’; people reading the document on a computer can click on the TOC and jump to the place in the text.

Creating a table of contents in a Microsoft Word document is a two-step process. First, tag the words for the headings. Secondly, assemble the table.

The first step is to identify the text that you want to appear in the Table of Contents (TOC).

Using Word as an example, mark the headings to include in your TOC.

Define words as heading 1, heading 2, heading 3, etc. Just select/highlight the required text and define it as having the relevant heading style (1, 2, 3 etc) by clicking on the relevant heading in the style box at the top of the screen. Three layers of heading is a sensible structure, allowing for chapter, section and subsection headings.

Inserting headings


Just as you can highlight text and make it bold or italic, you can also set the ‘style’. You can find the pre-defined styles beside the font selector. You are probably using ‘Normal’ or ‘Text’ when typing.

You can also select and apply the relevant heading required. For a chapter title, select heading 1 and continue through the document. Your document will immediately look better organised.

Continue through the document and add the appropriate type of heading style. Do a quick check at this stage and compile a TOC to see how your choice of heading looks.

Setting the style


If you don't like the particular style for a heading it is possible to change it:

Under format select ‘style’.

Then change the font, effects, and spacing required before and after.

Before you click OK, you will notice that there is a checkbox to say ‘update automatically’. If you tick this box, the new style will appear throughout the document for that style.



Make sure that you have set the basic style for the whole document first. If you have imported any text, from the web for example, it might have brought new styles with it which will ‘emerge’as you edit the document.

Highlight the whole document and set it to ‘normal’ before you start – this will get rid of any indents and bullet points or other effects you have already applied. However, putting in styles and layout as a proofing process ensures consistency throughout the manuscript.

Other tips

  • You can assemble a TOC whenever you want. To compile a TOC, go to the top of the document where the table will be inserted. Click the Insert tab and select ‘Index and Tables’. Next, select the ‘Contents’ tab and make the table – you can experiment with the formats and layouts as you go as it takes just a few moments to make the TOC.
  • Tables of Contents do not update automatically. To update a Table of Contents, put your cursor within the generated Table of Contents (which turns grey when you click in the TOC field), press ctrl-alt F9 to update all fields in the document and choose to update the Entire Table.
  • To make changes to your Table of Contents, click within the TOC to update the existing Table of Contents rather than creating a new one. The system will create a new, duplicate TOC if you tell it to, but updating makes more sense.
  • To make sure that Word updates the Table of Contents field whenever you print your document, select Tools > Options > Print and tick the Update Fields box.


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