Learning to create, format, or update a table of contents in Word isn’t hard.
You just need to follow a couple of straightforward steps. (Note: A Microsoft Word table of contents—or any TOC, for that matter—shares many features with an outline. It’s the “snapshot” of your document’s body.)
We’ll be working with MS Word’s built-in styles and using the term heading quite a bit, so if you need a refresher before we begin, have a look at our MS Word styles tutorial first.
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I. How to Create a Table of Contents in Word
Once you learn how to insert a table of contents in Word, you never forget. (It’s sort of like riding a bike, but without the scraped knees.)
Step 1: Style Your Headings
A table of contents (TOC) is made up of entries. Each entry comes from a heading within your document, whether that’s a report, a white paper, a dissertation, or something else.
We can use the Styles pane in MS Word’s Home tab to “tag” each heading: Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. (Sample text shows what each style looks like.)
- Put your cursor in any heading that is highest in your heading hierarchy and click on Heading 1 in the Quick Styles pane.
- Apply the Heading 1 style to all other top-level (H1) headings. H1 heads are the broadest in scope, followed by H2, H3, H4, etc.
- Repeat for all heading levels that you want to use in your TOC.
Step 2: Insert the TOC
Once you’ve styled all of your headings, you can create the table of contents in Word.
- Place your cursor where you want the TOC to appear. (At RedLine, we insert the TOC on a blank page after the title, half-title, and acknowledgments page but before other front matter pages such as the acronym list, abstract, executive summary, etc.)
- From the References tab, select “Table of Contents.”
- Choose between MS Word’s automatic or manual TOC. (The difference is that an automatic TOC inserts “fixed” entries, while a manual TOC inserts entries that you can type over if you wish to change them.) If you’ve worded your headings correctly in the document, then use the automatic TOC.
II. How to Update a Table of Contents in Word
Step 1: Change Headings (If Needed)
- Check the entries in your TOC for wording and correct case. Your options are title case and sentence case.
- Change headings that are not worded or styled correctly.
Step 2: Update Your TOC
- To update a table of contents in Word, right-click on the table.
- Choose “Update Field.”
- Select either “Update page numbers only” or “Update entire table.”
III. How to Format Your TOC
Step 1: Pick the Easy Way or the Hard Way
When formatting a Microsoft Word table of contents (or doing just about anything in Word, actually), you have a couple of options.
You can always change things manually. For example, you can click and drag to select an entry in the TOC. Then, from the Home tab, you can change the appearance of your selection.
But why in the world would you do that for dozens of entries in the TOC? This is the hard way.
The easy way is to make changes globally using TOC styles.
- Navigate to the References tab.
- Select “Table of Contents,” then “Custom Table of Contents.”
- Click on “Modify” in the dialog box, which opens up a window that allows you to change the look of the TOC entries: TOC1, TOC2, etc.
Step 2: Format TOC
- Select the TOC style that you want to format from the list. Ideally, you’re using only TOC1, TOC2, and (maybe) TOC3.
- Click “Modify.”
- Change typeface, font size, bold attributes, or any other formatting feature.
IV. Next Steps
Now it’s your turn. Time to practice!
Download the document that’s used in the screenshots in this post to play around with an MS Word table of contents. Then try the following:
- Delete the existing TOC and insert a new one: Word will pull the various headings from the document and create entries in the TOC. (Section I)
- Update your TOC: Change the wording of any heading in the document (add, change, or delete words). Then update the TOC and verify that the change is reflected in the entry in question. (Section II)
- Format your TOC: Following the steps above, change the look of your TOC styles. (Section III)
Ask a question in the comments if you have any trouble.
So now you know how to insert, format, and update a table of contents in Word. If you need help, then get in touch. It’s the software we use in most of our document formatting work. Thanks for stopping by!
Check out this table of contents to see how entries for sections and subsections can appear.
Last, download our editing checklist to help you create better digital content.