How to Add a Table of Contents to Word

For long documents you are creating in Microsoft Word, it’s helpful for readers when you add a Word table of contents. Through this table, you can provide a brief outline of the layout of the document, complete with the main points.

When the reader will be using Word to view your document, the Word table of contents can work like a navigation system, allowing the reader to click on the specific listing in the table to jump to the related area of the document.

Setting up a table of contents in Word is an easier process than you may think. Best of all, when you use the table of contents feature in the app, Word allows you to update the table of contents with one click to reflect any editing changes you make in the main document.

Step 0: Formatting the Word Document Properly

Before you can set up a Word table of contents, you have to be certain to format your document properly. For this reason, we would recommend writing, editing, and formatting your document completely and inserting the table of contents as the last step.

As mentioned earlier, Word will edit the table of contents to reflect the editing changes you make to the document, but the process just works better when adding the table of contents after writing the majority of the document. You may find after writing the document that you don’t really need a table of contents because it isn’t long enough.

The table of contents feature in Word will scan your document, looking for the heading styles you’re using in the document. It then pulls the information in the headings to create the listings for the table of contents.

To add heading styles to your Word document, highlight the text you want to use as a header and right-click on it. From the popup menu, left-click on Styles. You’ll see a list of styles available. Click on Heading 1, Heading 2, or Heading 3 to assign that style to the highlighted text. Following this process throughout the document will greatly simplify the process of creating a table of contents later.

Step 1: Decide Where to Place the Table of Contents

If your document has a title page, you may want to place the table of contents immediately after the title page. Otherwise, some people will choose to place the table of contents at the beginning of the main document or (far less frequently) at the end.

Step 2: Insert the Table of Contents

Place the cursor in your Word document where you want to insert the table of contents. Click the References menu in the upper section of the screen in the middle.

In the submenu, look for the Table of Contents section. Click on the Table of Contents entry.

Step 3: Pick the Style of Table of Contents You Want to Use

You can select between two types of preformatted table of contents in Word and a manual entry option. (You can customize the look of the table of contents as well, which we’ll explain later.)

  • Automatic Table 1: With this style of table, Word will use “Contents” as the title (as shown in the image above).
  • Automatic Table 2: With this style of table, the title will be “Table of Contents”.
  • Manual Table: With this style, you can edit the table with whatever text you want to add. Word will place sample text into the table of comments that you can edit. Understand that this process is far more time consuming than using the automatic option that relies on the heading styles.

Once you click on a preformatted table of contents style you want to use, Word will scan the document, populating the table of contents using the headings you formatted as you created the document. Word will automatically place a series of dots (called the leader) between the header and the page number. (You may need to switch to Print view to see the page numbers in the table of contents.)

When someone clicks on a listing in the table of contents in Web view, the reader can skip ahead to the linked item.

Step 4: Placing the Finishing Touches on the Table of Contents

Here are a few final tips for making the table of contents look exactly how you want.

Reflect Editing Changes in the Table of Contents

As you make editing changes to the Word document, the page numbers in the table of contents or the actual listings themselves may need updating.

Word allows you to update the table of contents automatically, rather than having to manually change the table. Click the References menu, followed by Update Table (which is just to the right of the Table of Contents icon). Word then will update the table of contents to reflect your editing changes.

You can choose to update the page numbers only, or you can update all information in the table of contents through the Update Entire Table button, which is the option you’ll want to use most of the time.

Edit the Headings

Once you see the headings listed in the preformatted table of contents, you may decide the wording is poor or not descriptive enough. You can use this opportunity to edit the text in the headers to make them work better. Don’t edit the text in the table of contents; edit the text in the document and update the entire table of contents to reflect the changes, as we just discussed.

Add More Headings

After creating a preformatted table of contents, you may find that in an especially long document, you don’t have enough headers. The table of contents shows you that you have too many pages between headers.

Go back and add some more headings to break up the text blocks in the document. If you did not use Heading 3 titles in the document originally, this is a good way to add more headings to break up the text. Then update the entire table of contents.

Insert Page Breaks

If you would like the table of contents to appear on its own page (or pages), separate from the main Word document, add page breaks before and after the table. (If the table of contents is the first item in the document, you don’t need a page break before it.)

Place the cursor in the document where the page break should appear and click the Insert menu, followed by Pages. Then select Page Break.

4 Ways to Customize the Word Table of Contents

Here are the four best ways to customize the way your table of contents looks in the Word document. You’ll make these changes through the Table of Contents popup window. To open it, click References, followed by Table of Contents. Then click Custom Table of Contents.

1. Remove Heading 3 Listings

If you used the Heading 3 style quite frequently in your document, you may find that the table of contents is too long or too detailed. You have the option of telling the Word table of contents feature to ignore all Heading 3 listings, which will shrink the table of contents.

In the Table of Contents popup window, click the Table of Contents tab. In the lower left corner of the screen, in the General section, change the Show Levels number to 2. This should remove any Heading 3 entries from the table of content.

As we mentioned earlier, some documents are so long that using the Heading 3 listings in the table of contents is a necessity. You’ll may want to use the Show Levels feature to see how your table of contents looks with and without the Heading 3 style listings included, ultimately determining which way works better.

2. Modify the Font in the Table of Contents

You can change any of the fonts or text sizes in use in the table of contents. You may find that you prefer to have a different font style in use in the table of contents versus the main document to allow the table to stand out on its own.

Click the Modify button in the lower right corner of the Table of Contents popup window. Highlight TOC1 from the list to change the font for Heading 1 entries and click Modify again. (Click TOC2 or TOC3 to edit Heading 2 or Heading 3 entries.)

You then can select the font style and font size that you want to use for the selected heading in the table of contents. After changing the font, click OK three times and then click Yes to replace the table of contents.

This process should be the final step you take in editing the document and creating the table of contents. If you make additional editing changes to the document after altering the table of content fonts, Word may reset the table of contents to its default fonts.

3. Adjust the Leader Style

By default, Word uses a series of dots to serve as the leader (which is the set of characters that connect the listing in the table of contents with the page number. You can choose a different character as the leader.

In the Table of Contents window, click on the Tab Leader drop down menu. You’ll see a list of characters you can use for the leader. Select the one you want to use.

Additionally, you can choose to use no leader, although this may not work well when the width of the table of contents stretches across the entire page. It may be difficult for someone to determine exactly which page associates with each entry without a leader.

You also could choose to remove the right alignment for the page numbers, placing them next to their associated entry on the left side of the table of contents. Just remove the checkmark from the Right Align Page Numbers checkbox. This is not the way a traditional table of contents looks, but it creates an informal look in your document’s table of contents, which may be perfect for the type of document you’re creating.

After making your changes, you may see a popup window, asking if you want to replace the table of contents. Click Yes to make the editing changes.

4. Changing Your Mind on the Table of Contents

After inserting a table of contents, you may decide you don’t like the way it works with this particular document. You have the option of removing it, and Word will make all of the spacing changes required to keep your document properly spaced.

Click References, followed by Table of Contents. At the bottom of the popup menu, you should click on the Remove Table of Contents entry. You may have to verify the selection.

Should you change your mind again and want to reinsert the table of contents, Word will remember all of the customization changes you’ve made, saving you from having to rebuild your table of contents from scratch.

To reinsert your deleted table of contents, just click References, followed by Table of Contents. Then click Automatic Table 1, Automatic Table 2, or Manual Table, and Word will restore your previous table of contents settings.