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!

How to create columns in Word in one click

Newspapers have generally multiple columns. Some brochures may be tabulated in multiple columns. It happens that wanting to emphasize a part of a text, we want to create two or more columns inside of a single-columned text. With Word 2013 and 2016, nothing is simpler. Take the following 5-paragraph text.

Simple Word Text

Creating columns quickly

If we want to display the second and third paragraphs as two columns, follow these two simple steps:

  1. Select the paragraphs you want in columns
  2. Go Layout, click the Column button and chose the number of columns you want.

Creating Two Columns

In the example above, I added two horizontal lines to separate visually the first and fourth paragraph from the two columns, by using the Borders button on the Home menu.

Colunms and sections

Creating columns with the Design menu actually creates sections. A section is started and ended by an invisible section break. This allows a different design to be applied. In our example, we end up with three sections:

  • The first section starts at the beginning of the document and contains the first paragraph
  • The second section contains the two paragraphs that form the two columns
  • The third section contains the last two paragraphs

Each section can have different column numbers, page size, margins, page numbers, etc. Sections offer a simple and convenient way to create complex documents in one single piece. With other word processor, you may need to create multiple documents, but Word is powerful enough, with sections, to allow multiple designs in a single document.

If you want to see section breaks, click on the Show/Hide button (a.k.a pilcrow) in the Home menu: . This will reveal all hidden marks like space, paragraphs and section marks. Those marks will not be printed, however, they allow to spot design mistakes. Note that paragraph and section breaks actually contains the design elements of the previous text. Deleting one of those marks will apply the design of the next mark.

How to change the proofing language in 2 clicks

If you write texts in Word, or other Office software, in various languages, you want to change to use the right dictionary for spelling and grammar checks. By default, Word detects automatically the language you are writing in and choses the right dictionary. However, if you mix languages in the same document, it may have difficulties to recognize which part is in one language and which is in another language.

Two languages in the same document

For instance, in the following screen shot, the first sentence is in French, and the second in English. Note that the second one is underlined with what Word has identified as a mistake.

However, the second sentence is correct. It’s just that Word is using the French dictionary as the beginning of the document in in French. How do you know which dictionary is used?

Choosing the right dictionary

Have a look at the bottom left of the screen shot. You will see French (France). This is the current dictionary used. If you select the second sentence and double-click on the French (France) words, the Language box will appear, allowing you to change the dictionary.

You can then select the English (United States) dictionary so Word understands this is an English text, and click OK. This dialog box can also be reached through the Review menu, by clicking Language, then Set Proofing Language. Notice the Detect language automatically check box. This option allows Word to choose the right language. On the other hand, if you check the box Do not check spelling or grammar, Word keeps your mistake unnoticed. Although, it’s not 100% fool proof, spelling and grammar checking is a very convenient feature. You can know change your language in a matter of two clicks.

Show and Hide formatting symbols in Word

A Word text comprises visible and invisible symbols. Visible symbols are the letters you type. Invisible symbols are for instance the paragraph marks, the tabulation, the space, just to name a few. Hiding invisible symbols facilitates reading. However, showing them will help correcting formatting mistakes.

In the screen capture above, you see tabulation (the arrow at the beginning), spaces (the dot between words) and the paragraph mark. To show or hide those symbols, you just have to click on the Show/Hide button in the Home menu (¶) or type Ctrl+*.

Posting to your blog from Word

Did you know Word can be a blog editor? Actually, it may be one of the most powerful blog editors since its word processor engine has been on the market for more than 25 years. Blogging from Word is straightforward, including the initial setup if you are using one of the supported blogging platforms: SharePoint, WordPress, Blogger, Telligent and TypePad. Not that you cannot post to other platforms, but setting up Word to publish to those ones will be fully automated.

  1. Write your blog post
  2. Go to File, Share, Post to Blog, then click the button Post to Blog. Note this is different from Post to Social Networks that exists as well and support Twitter and Facebook.
  3. You will then be asked to setup Word to it can publish to your blog platform with your account. 3 simple actions:
    1. Register your blog account. This is necessary for Word to know where and how to publish.
    2. Choose first your blogging platform. If it’s one listed, everything will take less than a minute. If it’s not listed you may need to setup the platform and it may requires extra steps.
    3. Input your URL, account and password so that Word can detect details of your blog
    4. After Word warns you that people may see what you are about to send – hey you are on the Internet –, everything should be smooth and setup is over. Easy, isn’t it?

It’s always possible later on to change the settings of your blog if you were, for instance, to change the user and/or the password. You can now post to your blog. Note that Word will load a new menu item called Blog Post and will actually reduce the menu bar to just two main items: Blog Post and Insert. It reflects the capabilities of the blogging platforms.

Once your blog post is over, you can publish or publish as draft if you want to modify or publish it later, by clicking the Publish button in the Blog Post menu. Note that you may want to add Categories if you have some on your blog so it will categorize your post for enabling search and sort.

Voilà. Word is now setup for blogging. One final point: when you want to create a new blog post, now Word is setup, you just have to go to File, New and choose the Blog Post template. It will automatically load the right menu bar to get you right ready to write your post.