What’s Inside? Tables of Contents

A simple table of contents in a document can be a powerful tool to help your readers grasp key concepts and principles as well as find the detail they need.

There are plenty of how-to videos that tell you how to create an automated table of contents in Word, but here are the basics, and it’s pretty easy to do.

  1. Use built-in headings styles Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.
  2. Then at the beginning of your document, insert a table of contents from the References menu. Pick one of the built-in models or use the Insert Table of Contents option for more flexibility in the design.
  3. “Contents” will appear in your document and list all the headings in your document with the page number for each heading.
  4. Each time you add or remove or change a heading, update the table of contents (choose Update Table on the ribbon).

You’ll have a Table of Contents, but here are the keys to making that TOC a useful tool rather than just a list of pages and topics.

  • Start by organizing your document with logical headings. Be sure your Heading 1s are all equivalent high-levels of detail, your Heading 2s should all be related to their Heading 1 and also be a similar level of detail. And so on. Then when you create your table of contents, it will read like those outlines you did in school —major topics, subtopics under them, etc.
  • Think hard about how many levels to include in the contents. You’ll always want 2 levels, often 3. If you feel like you need to include the heading 4’s because they are so important, maybe you need to think about changing the organization of your document to move them up in the hierarchy. (The Insert Table of Contents dialog box lets you decide exactly what headings to include.)
  • Be sure to make the topics in the Table of Contents hyperlinks. Use the Insert Table of Contents dialog box to do this.

About Carol

Technical Writer for over 20 years--with a broad range of industries and material types. I love to get into the details about how a business works and figure out how to help people do their job better with well-crafted documentation.
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