Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Creating a table of contents

Word processing styles are the key to “effortlessly” making a document look elegant.

They also help you automate a number of different tasks, like the creation and maintenance of tables of contents (TOCs).

Of course, you can print out a document, type the chapter numbers, titles and page numbers for each chapter, and slide that page in front of the rest of the document. Table of contents – done!

Now, say you need to reorder certain chapters and add material to others. You need to repeat all that work, which is about as unappetizing a task as was creating it in the first place…

… unless you used the Heading 1 style for each chapter heading, and Heading 2 and 3 for subheadings. Then you can easily auto-generate a table of contents using these steps.

Creating a table of contents

  1. Place your cursor where you want the TOC.
  2. Choose Insert, Document Elements, Table of Contents.

(These steps are for Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac, but most of today’s word processors offer very similar features.)

That’s it! The latest versions of Word offer a Document Elements toolbar that simplifies this even more, and even adds the words “Table of Contents” right above the table.

Updating a table of contents

The real beauty of this table is that you can update it after you change content or move chapters around. To update a TOC

  1. Right-click it and choose Update Field
  2. Sometimes Word asks if you want to update the whole field or just the page numbers. If so, make a choice and click OK.

More tips:

  • Many word processors offer a setting that prompts you to update the TOC before you either save or print a document. Turn it on – it may save you from printing or emailing documents with out-of-sync TOCs.
  • If you want to change the look of the text in your TOC, update the relevant styles – TOC 1 for Heading 1, TOC 2 for Heading 2 and so on.
  • Few documents need to go below three levels of headings. Those that do become a little unwieldy.