Create a table of contents using Word Styles

Creating a table of contents (TOC) is super easy if you have applied styles to your headings.

If you are new to styles, start at my introductory post What are Word Styles and how do you use them?

Contents

Let’s assume you have your document set up with headings styled as Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3 etc.

It’s simple to insert a table of contents and to select how it should look. We’ll look at the PC version of Word 365 first. The minor variations on Mac 365 are mentioned at the end of each section.

Insert an automatic table of contents

To insert an automatic table of contents:

  1. Place your cursor where you want the table of contents to be – this may be just after a title page or perhaps after an Executive Summary.
  2. Go to the References tab.
  3. Click the Table of Contents button.
  4. Select Automatic Table 1.

In my example document, I get the following table of contents, constructed from the headings I’ve styled.

On a Mac: the Table of Contents button provides a menu that has at the top five automatic tables that differ in text style (but all offer the ‘Table of Contents heading’)

Points to note

  • By default, the Automatic Table 1 shows down to Level 3 headings.
  • The TOC inlcudes page numbers with leading dots.
  • Entries are hyperlinked to their headings, so you can move to a section by control-clicking on a heading in the table of contents.
  • The table entries are styled as TOC1, TOC2 and TOC3. That means you can alter the style of the table of contents by modifying those styles. For example, if you wish Heading 1 text in the TOC to be bold or lower level headings not to be indented, you can modify their styles to suit. (Don’t manually adjust the formatting of the table entries because you’ll lose those changes when you update the table.)
  • If you choose Automatic Table 2 (rather than 1), the only difference is that your table header will be ‘Table of Contents’. Generally, and certainly in the Australian Style Manual, it is correct to call your table of contents simply ‘Contents’ – I guess readers can see it is a table – so Table 1 is my preferred quick go-to.
  • If your headings aren’t showing up in the table of contents, check out my note on user-defined styles in my post on using Word Styles.

On a Mac: the Table of Contents button provides a menu that has at the top five automatic tables that differ in text style (but all offer the ‘Table of Contents heading’). Otherwise, the outcome is the same as on the PC.

Update the table of contents

As you make changes to your document, you don’t edit this table directly. Rather, you update it, which will refresh the table with any changes to the headings themselves and their page numbers.

To update the table of contents:

  1. Click in the table to see the Update Table tab above the table (as you can see below), and click on that tab.
  2. In the Update Table of Contents dialog box, select the ‘Update entire table’ option.
  3. Click OK.

The table will refresh.

You can also call up the Update Table of Contents dialog box by right-clicking in the table of contents.

On a Mac: click on the table (avoiding hyperlinks) to see a Table of Contents tab, which has an arrow on the right that offers an option to Update Table… (otherwise double-tap on the TOC) to get the Update Table of Contents dialog box, which has the same two options as above.

Insert a customised table of contents

For many purposes, the automatic table will be fine. But if some of those default settings don’t suit your purposes, it’s easy to create a customised TOC.

To insert a customised table of contents:

  1. Place your cursor where you want the TOC to be – this may be just after a title page or perhaps after an Executive Summary.
  2. Go to the References tab.
  3. Click the Table of Contents button.
  4. Scroll down to and select Custom Table of Contents…
  5. Select your options in the Table of Contents dialog box (below).

In this dialog box you can choose:

  • how many heading levels you want to show; for example, you might want just the Heading 1s to show – this is one of my most used options
  • whether to show page numbers (which you might not want in something that will go online)
  • whether the page numbers are right-aligned
  • the Tab leader format (e.g. dots, dashes, blank)
  • whether the style comes from the template (TOC1 etc.) or one of the Word style sets (Classic, Distinctive etc.)
  • whether the table entries are hyperlinked.

The default settings shown above will produce the same TOC as the Automatic Table 1 option but without any ‘Contents’ heading.

Options and modifications

You play around even more with how the TOC is constructed if you click on the Options… button.

The Table of Contents Options dialog box shows that the TOC is being constructed from Styles and based on Outline levels, as they are both checked.

In the body of the box, you can specify exactly which style corresponds to each TOC level. Perhaps you’ve included special boxes of information that use a particular style (e.g. BoxHead) for their heading, and you want them to be listed in the table of contents rather than the Heading 3s. You could delete the 3 from Heading 3 and scroll down to the BoxHead style and enter 3 there.

This gives you a lot of control over the entries in the TOC.

The Modify… button on the Table of Contents dialog box opens up a Style dialog box where you can modify the TOC styles. You can also modify those styles as you would any other style (e.g. via the Styles pane).

On the Mac: the Custom Table of Contents dialog boxes look a bit different but offer the same options as on the PC.

Summary

Whether you insert an automatic TOC or create a customised one with the options in the dialog boxes, creating a TOC is very straightforward when you have styles applied to your headings.

What next?

This is just the start of customising your table of contents. The TOC Tips and Tricks article from Susan S. Barnhill goes a lot further.

See more tips and tricks. Tips on Word Styles are gathered in this collection.

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