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Create a Table of Contents in Word

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In many aspects of our daily life, we encounter and use a table of contents. Whether it is opening a magazine or reading the newspaper, you will see this feature in many types of reading materials.

Microsoft Word has provided an easy-to-use function that enables users to quickly incorporate a table of contents in a document. No need to manually create a table of contents and continually update the page numbers yourself. This function is easy to use and easy to update or alter to suit the needs of the document.

The Table of Contents (TOC) feature relies on the use of heading styles for it to work. If you are new to using styles then you can take a look at my post titled Introduction to Styles in Microsoft Word.

A TOC can display headings and page number references for topics within a document and is usually located within the first couple of pages of the document. You can include multiple heading levels such as a chapter heading and then multiple subheading levels.

The TOC level refers to which level within the hierarchy, the heading will be displayed. Each TOC level is displayed at a different indentation point within the TOC to make identification of main headings and subheadings easy. Any style used within Microsoft Word can be included in a table of contents, so you are not limited to using the standard Heading 1, Heading 2 or Heading 3 styles.

Create a table of contents in Word

Create a Table of Contents

To create a TOC, follow these steps:

  1. Open Microsoft Word
  2. If you have a document where you would like to include a table of contents, press Ctrl + O and locate/open the document
  3. If you do not have a document to use for this exercise, feel free to download my sample file as shown below:
Create a table of contents in Word
  1. Apply the following styles to each heading as shown below. Here’s a tip to save you time: highlight the first heading “Basic Operations” and apply Heading 1, now scroll through the document and locate the heading “Printing Functions” which also needs to be formatted as Heading 1, highlight the heading and press F4 on the keyboard, this will “repeat” your last action and apply the heading 1 style again. Repeat this for the rest of the headings to be formatted as Heading 1, then return to the start of the document and repeat the process and format the remaining headings as Heading 2.
Basic OperationsHeading 1
Opening existing documentsHeading 2
Using Save AsHeading 2
Printing FunctionsHeading 1
Using Print PreviewHeading 2
Printing a DocumentHeading 2
Word ToolsHeading 1
Using AutoCorrectHeading 2
Using AutoTextHeading 2
Working with PicturesHeading 1
All remaining headingsHeading 2
  1. Press Ctrl + Home on the keyboard to return to the start of the document
  2. Press Enter 3 times to insert 3 x blank lines
  3. Press Ctrl + Enter to insert a Page Break so that the content of the document begins on Page 2, press Ctrl + Home again
  4. Select the References tab and click the Table of Contents button
  5. From the options available select Custom Table of Contents
  6. The Table of Contents dialog box will now appear:
Create a table of contents in Word
  1. Because we have only used Heading 1 and Heading 2 in our styles lets adjust which heading styles will be included in the Table of Contents
  2. Click the Options button
  3. In the TOC level field box remove the number 3 from the TOC level for Heading 3
  4. Click OK twice
  5. The Table of Contents will now be inserted into the top of the document
Create a table of contents in Word
  1. You can now include a heading above the table of contents but be sure not to use the Heading 1 or Heading 2 style or this will be included into the table of contents
  2. To refresh the table of contents when you create new headings or edit an existing heading, place your cursor inside the TOC area, the TOC will appear with grey highlights
Create a table of contents in Word
  1. Press F9 on the keyboard to refresh the TOC, you will be prompted to update the page numbers only OR the entire table. Press OK once you have made your selection and the TOC will be updated.

I hope this has provided an introduction to adding a table of contents to your document. Watch for future posts on customising your table of contents.


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