Automate your table of contents in Microsoft Word

 Apr 24, 2015

In order to create an automatically generated table of contents (TOC) in Microsoft Word, you need to ensure you apply heading styles throughout your document. That is, everything you want listed on the table of contents needs to have either a Heading 1, Heading 2 or Heading 3 style or it won’t show up in the TOC. When you then run the TOC from the References Tab, Word knows which parts to list on the TOC. It is critical to use styles if you want to do an automated TOC.

So assuming you know about heading styles and have applied them to your document appropriately, and you are ready to finalise your long document then you can move onto the following steps.

Step 1: Once you are done applying your heading styles to all the heading levels in your document, place the mouse cursor where you want to insert the TOC. This is usually the first right hand page after the cover page.

Step 2: Click the Reference tab (in Word 2013) from the Ribbon as you will find all the tools used especially for long documents here. Under the Table of Contents group click the icon Table of Contents. From the bottom of the drop-down list, click Custom Table of Contents .

Automate your table of contents in Microsoft Word

Step 3: On clicking "Custom Table of Contents," the dialogue box "Table of Contents" appears. Now, do the following in the dialogue box:

  1. Select a Tab Leader type of your choice from the drop-down list.
  2. Select a format for the table of content from the drop-down list of Formats.
  3. Select the number of heading levels to be included in the table of contents from the Show Levels spin box.
  4. Click the Options button from the right bottom corner to include/exclude heading styles to build a customised table of content.
  5. Click OK and the TOC is generated in the cursor position.

If you need to make any changes in the TOC itself, then you would redo the whole process and replace the current one with the updated one. If you have any editing changes in the content of the document (e.g. headings have typos, page numbers or position of paragraphs changes) then you can just update the TOC by right clicking in the TOC and choosing update. Alternatively, you can select the whole document (Ctrl+A) and then hit the F9 button on your keyboard to refresh all field codes where you'll get to choose the option to update page numbers only or all the content.

Another handy hint is that if you are using the Show/Hide button to reveal your non-printing characters then you should turn it off before refreshing or updating the TOC because the hidden codes take up space when being displayed. When you turn them off then you get the true page numbers and not the inflated position they might have been in when the Show/Hide was on. So always turn them off and update right before printing to make sure the page numbers are very accurate.

You can also take a look at New Horizons' Microsoft Word training courses for more information!

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About the Author:

Liz French  

With over 7 years of experience as a trainer, and an extensive skill set that spans across the entire Microsoft Office suite of applications, Liz brings an incredible amount of knowledge, expertise and care to each course she delivers. Having worked as a tutor in the education sector for many years prior to her career at New Horizons, Liz has gained an extensive amount of experience in providing training to individuals and groups of varying skill levels. As a certified Microsoft Office Master, Liz is a highly capable trainer who possesses the ability to connect with students of all levels and backgrounds in order to help improve their skills across a wide range of common Desktop Applications.

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