How to create a table of contents in 2 easy steps

Every structured document can have a simple table of contents. Microsoft Word makes the creation and the maintenance of a table of contents a really simple tasks. Before diving into the creation of such a table, let’s define it simply. Here’s a sample table of contents:

You can find some patterns here: each part is numbered, each chapter is numbered too however is a sub hierarchy from the parts, and each part and chapter has a page number. The beauty of table of contents in Word is that it relies entirely on styles and particularly on Heading styles. Let’s see how to create a table of contents like the one above.

Step1: Applying styles

If you are not familiar with styles, do not worry! Although styles can be complex, the basics are simple. What you have to know for now is to locate the Style drop-down in the Home tab.

In this drop-down, notice the Heading 1 to 5 styles. By default, text has Normal style. However, any selected text can take any style you chose. In our case, all you need to do is to apply the style Heading 1 to the text Introduction, Part 1, and following to Conclusion. Then, you apply style Heading 2 to the chapter text. If all were next to each other, you would get something like this:


Part 1

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Part 2

Notice it’s not just a change of font size, each text has now a style attached to it. Finally notice that there is a keyboard shortcut to apply Heading styles: Crtl+Alt+number, the number being the level you want to apply. For instance, applying Heading 2 requires you put the cursor on the text you want to apply the style to, then press Ctrl+Alt+2.

Step 2: Creating the table of content

One you applied all Heading styles to the required text, move to the beginning of the document and add a new page. To do this, you can use the easy way: press Ctrl+Enter! This creates what we call a page break, that is, it will start a brand new page (if you want see the page break read my post on showing hidden formatting symbols)

Then, when your cursor is at the right place, just go to the References tab, click the Table of Contents button and chose the style you prefer. Note that the Table of Contents style can be changed like any other styles, although I will not cover this in this post.

Your table of contents will be automatically created with a Contents title added by word. If you change pagination, add or delete titles, or amend in any manner any title, you can update your table of content by clicking on it and on the Update Table button that will appear at the top.

Notice the small Table of Contents button appearing next to the Update Table one. This one allows you to change your Table of Contents style in one click.

Finally, there is one caveat you should be aware of. Let’s imagine before you include your table of content, your Part 1 started on page 1. Now, while you added the table of contents, Part 1 starts on page 3. The table of content will still reference page 1 for Part 1 as it was the case at the table creation time. You will need to “Update page numbers only” by clicking the Update Table button and choosing the page numbers only option. You’ll get used to it quickly.

As you can see, creating a table of contents in word is a real piece of cake!

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