Microsoft Word Table of Contents: Use Styles to Make It Easy and Dynamic

microsoftwordtableofcontentsIf you have been typing your table of contents in to your large Word files, you need to know there is a better way to work. You can not only save yourself time but also make it easier for readers to navigate your document by using some of the features that come packaged with Microsoft’s word-processing software.

In general, you can gain a lot by exploring the formatting and document layout features in Word, and if you would like a guided tour, you might like to try a comprehensive course covering the latest version of Word. In this guide, however, we will look specifically and the features you need to create a dynamic and easily updated table of contents.

Note that this tutorial uses Microsoft Word 2010 and reflects changes made to the program beginning with Word 2007. If you are using 2003 or an earlier version, some of the menus will be in different places than what is described here. If you are considering an upgrade, there are courses specifically designed to take you through the changes that have been made to the layout and features. For example, you can take a course on upgrading from Word 2003 to Word 2010.

Define Your Styles

A formatting feature in Microsoft Word that is often overlooked, styles are the basis for many of advanced capabilities in the program. Getting to know styles and using them regularly in your work is a must-do if you want to increase your efficiency and build better documents.

Styles are also a necessity in creating an effective table of contents in word. They contain the information Word will use to find the sections of your document and include them in your list. Here is what you can do to use styles for this purpose.

Step 1

For each of the main headings in your document, define a style for heading 1, or your top-level headings.

A. Begin by highlighting the first heading in your document and bring up the home ribbon to see the styles menu

B. Apply a unique heading style to this text. This can be the Heading 1 style or it can be a style that you define. Either way, you will likely want this to be specifically formatted for your document, which you can do by modifying the style.  So to do this, follow these steps.

1. Right-click on the style most appropriate to the section. Here, we’ll use Heading 1.

2. Select modify from the menu that comes up

3. The modify style menu appears, allowing you to select options for the new style

If you want to change the name, you will create a new style. Otherwise, you can leave the name and applying your formatting changes to Heading 1.  For this demonstration, keep the other properties on their default selection.

Move down to the formatting section and use the menus to format the text the way you want it to appear in your document. Check the box next to “Add to Quick Style List” so it will appear in the list on the home menu.  Then you can decide whether it should be automatically updated in the document and whether you want to apply it to all documents based on the template or just the current document. Make your selections and click OK.

These steps should give you enough working knowledge to deal with styles for the purpose of creating your table of contents. However, if you are new to using styles, a course in understanding Microsoft Word’s themes and styles is recommended to give you more detailed guidance

Step 2. Scroll through the document and apply this style to all of your main headings.  You will access the style from the menu ribbon and simply click to apply it.

Step 3. Repeat this process for your subheadings, using as many levels as you want to highlight. For example, if you have large sections that require two levels of sub-headings, you can define and apply styles for Heading 2 and Heading 3.

When all of your headings have the appropriate style applied, you can move on to build your table of contents.

Create your table of contents

Now that your document is set up with styles, you can make a dynamic table of contents with just a few clicks.  Here are the steps you will take to do this.

1. Scroll to the beginning of your document, where you want the table of contents to go.

2. Click on the insert tab to bring up the insert ribbon

3. From the Text menu at the right, select Quick Parts, and click on Field from the dropdown menu.

4. The field menu will come up.  You will want to scroll down on the list to field names list to find TOC.

5. Click on the button to the right labeled Table of Contents

6. The Table of Contents menu will come up, allowing you to select properties for your table.

In the first menu on the left, you can decide whether you want your list to include the page numbers, whether you want them to be right aligned, and what style of tab leader you want between the section name and the page number. If you would like to use hyperlinks rather than page numbers when the document is published online, you can select that option in the right-top menu. Then, under the general menu, you can define how many levels your table should show and what style of formatting you would like to apply.

Configure these options but do not click OK.  Instead click the Options button in the lower right.

7. Now you should see the Table of Contents Options menu.

Since you are building your table of contents based on styles, you want that option to be checked, which should be the default.

The scrolling menu under styles is where you will map the table of contents outline level to your styles. Make sure you have 1 defined for your highest-level heading, 2 for your second level, and so on.  If you named your styles something other than the default, they should appear in this list.

8. Make sure no additional headings are mapped, and if they are, delete the number in the TOC level box.

9. Click OK on this menu. Then Click OK again on the Table of Contents menu

Updating the Table of Contents

You should now have a complete table of contents that updates dynamically. When you make changes in your document, you can easily reflect the change in the table of contents by right clicking within the table and selecting Update Field.  If you need to make changes to the outline levels (for example, when you add a new level to your document), right click and select Edit Field. Then you will once again follow the steps for creating the table of contents.

Ultimately, the table of contents is just one of many dynamic features you can use in Microsoft Word to make your documents dynamic, easy to use, and attractive. If you want to master these tools, you can get the education you need in a course on the advanced features of Microsoft Word.