A “Word” on Creating a Table of Contents

By Jacob Trujillo

A table of contents establishes a simple way of maneuvering through a document that contains several sets of information. It allows the reader to access specific content areas in a document by setting a list of those specific content areas, along with their page number, at the beginning of the document. There are two ways that you can go about creating a table of contents in Microsoft Word: manually and automatically.

Manually creating a table of contents is useful for documents that won’t need to be updated.  By constructing a table of contents manually, you begin by clicking the area of the document where you’d like to insert the table. Then, on the Document Elements tab, under Table of Contents, click the Insert tab and choose a template under Manual Table of Contents:

For example, by clicking on the Classic template, it will appear on the document like so:From this point, you can modify the text formatting (e.g., font, font size, accentuation, etc.) and begin to manually insert every individual entry into the table, along with its respective page number. You’re able to add more levels to the table by copying an existing entry and pasting it wherever you choose, or you can remove levels depending on how many entries you need. If you need to update the table, you have to manually adjust each entry and its page number in accordance with the updated document, which can become time consuming.

For more intricate tables of contents that may require frequent revising, Microsoft Word provides automatic tables that you can efficiently modify and update with (ideally) little hassle. Creating an automatic table of contents begins with selecting proper heading styles. As you draft your document, categorize specific content areas with level headings. Under the Styles tab, you can choose level headings to label your document:

Style Heading 1 can be used to break up the document into general categories of information. If you need to split a general category into subcategories, you can use level headings 2 and 3 to identify specific content areas in a category. When you’ve completed the current document with all of your selected level headings in place, you’re ready to insert the automatic table of contents. Like inserting a manual table of contents, you choose the area of the document where you’d like to place the table, click the Document Elements tab, and under Table of Contents, insert your preferred Automatic Table of Contents template. For example, a Core Humanities 202 compare and contrast essay could be categorized like so:

Updating an automatic table of contents is simple: once you’re finished with modifying the document, click on the table, and on the tab that appears at the top, click Update Table. You have the option of specifically updating page numbers, or you can update the entire table. Remember that if you make manual changes to an automatic table of contents, those changes will be erased when the table updates.While you may not need to use a table of contents for your normal, everyday research papers, they are very useful for theses, dissertations, and other large documents. And there you have it, constructing, inserting, and updating a table of contents, manually and automatically.

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