Insert, Format and Update a Table of Contents (TOC) in Microsoft Word

by Avantix Learning Team | Updated April 14, 2022

Applies to: Microsoft® Word® 2013, 2016, 2019, 2021 or 365 (Windows)

You can create a table of contents quickly in Word using built-in heading styles. Although you can insert a table of contents (TOC) using different strategies in Word documents, it's easiest to use Heading 1, Heading 2 and so on to format headings and then generate your table of contents. You can then change the formatting and update the TOC when your document changes.

Because a table of contents is a Word field, you should not type over it as any typing will be removed when you update the TOC.

There are 4 steps for creating a table of contents in Word using heading styles:

  1. Prepare the document by applying built-in heading styles such as Heading 1, Heading 2 and so on
  2. Create or insert the table of contents
  3. Format the table of contents
  4. Update the table of contents

Both custom and automatic table of contents can be updated when changes are made to the document. An automatic table of contents is inserted in a content control and some users may have difficulty working with, or understanding, content controls (which act as containers for specific content). The Manual Table that appears in the Insert Table of Contents drop-down menu is an option that requires the user to type entries and is not an efficient way to create a table of contents in Word (and should rarely be used).

Recommended article: 14 Timesaving Microsoft Word Shortcuts to Quickly Select Text

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Step 1: Prepare the document by applying built-in heading styles

In order to easily insert a table of contents in Word, you'll need to apply heading styles to titles and subheadings in your document first.

To apply a built-in heading style to a title or subheading:

  1. Click in the title or subheading to which you wish to apply a built-in heading style. Each title or subheading is a paragraph and should be followed by a hard return (you pressed Enter or Return).
  2. Click the Home tab in the Ribbon and in the Styles group, click a heading style (such as Heading 1). You can click the down arrow on the bottom right of the Styles Gallery to display more styles.

Below is the Styles Gallery in the Home tab in the Ribbon in Word:

Heading styles in the Styles Gallery in the Home tab in the Word Ribbon.

It's common to have one or two levels of headings (Heading 1 and Heading 2), but you can apply multiple heading levels. By default, Word will typically display the next heading level if a previous level has been used in the document.

You can also click in a title or subheading and press Ctrl + Alt + 1 to apply Heading 1, Ctrl + Alt + 2 to apply Heading 2 and so on.

Step 2: Create or insert the table of contents

Once you have applied built-in heading styles, you can easily create a custom table of contents or TOC.

To create or insert a table of contents:

  1. Click in the document where you want to insert or create a table of contents (typically at the beginning of the document).
  2. Type "Contents" or "Table of Contents" and press Enter. Format the text, but do not use built-in heading styles.
  3. Click below the title where you want to insert the table of contents.
  4. Click the References tab in the Ribbon and click Table of Contents in the Table of Contents group. A drop-down menu appears.
  5. Select Custom Table of Contents. A custom table of contents will not appear in a content control. A dialog box appears.
  6. Enter the number of levels to display in the table of contents beside Show levels (such as 2).
  7. Select or check Use hyperlinks instead of page numbers if you want to create active hyperlinks or links if you save the document as a PDF (Portable Document Format) file. This will enable users to click the table of contents in the PDF to jump to specific locations in the file.
  8. Ensure Show page numbers is selected if you want page numbers to appear in the table of contents. If you select Show page numbers, the page numbers are typically right aligned by default. If necessary, select a tab leader from the Tab leader drop-down menu to change the character that leads up to the page numbers in the table of contents.
  9. Select an option from the Formats drop-down menu if necessary. It's best to select From template if you want to modify the formatting of the table of contents.
  10. Click OK. A table of contents appears in the document. This is a Word field so if you click in it, it will normally appear in grey. Do not type manual entries in the table of contents.

The Table of Contents dialog box appears as follows:

Table of contents dialog box in Word to insert or create a table of contents.

Step 3: Format the table of contents

You can format a table of contents in many ways using the Table of Contents dialog box:

  1. Click in the table of contents.
  2. Click the References tab in the Ribbon and click Table of Contents in the Table of Contents group. A drop-down menu appears.
  3. Select Custom Table of Contents. A dialog box appears.
  4. Click Modify. Note: you will not be able to select Modify if you have selected any option other than From Template from the Formats drop-down menu. A dialog box appears with TOC styles.
  5. Click a TOC style. For example, click TOC 1 if you want to format the first level items in the table of contents.
  6. Click Modify. The Modify Style dialog box appears.
  7. Select the desired options (such as font size, bold, etc.). You can also select Format and choose other options from the drop-down menu. It's a good idea to turn off Automatically update so if a user selects and formats paragraphs manually in a table of contents, the table of contents does not update with the changes. It's also usually best to select Only in this document so that the formatting changes apply only to the current document, not future documents based on the template (typically the Normal template).
  8. Click OK.
  9. Repeat for other TOC levels.
  10. Continue clicking OK until you return to the document. A dialog box appears asking if you want to replace the table of contents.
  11. Click OK.

You can modify an automatic table of contents in the same way. Click in the automatic table of contents and follow steps 2-9.

Below is the Style dialog box that appears when you click Modify:

Style dialog box in Word to modify a table of contents.

If you selected 2 heading levels to include in your table of contents, you may want to modify TOC 1 and TOC 2.

When you click a TOC style and then click Modify, the following Modify Style dialog box appears:

Modify Style dialog box in Word to modify a table of contents heading level.

You can select options under Formatting or click Format on the bottom left and select other options such as Font or Paragraph.

The following table of contents example includes 2 heading levels (TOC 1 and TOC 2):

Example of a table of contents in Word with 2 heading levels.

Step 4: Update the table of contents

After you edit your document, you can update the table of contents at any time.

To update a table of contents:

  1. Click in the table of contents.
  2. Right-click and select Update Field from the drop-down menu or press F9. You can also click the References tab and then click Update Table in the Table of Contents group. A dialog box appears.
  3. Click Update page numbers only or Update entire table (recommended).
  4. Click OK.

Update dialog box in Word to update a table of contents.

Navigate to table of contents entries

If you want to quickly jump to a table of contents entry, Ctrl-click it in the table of contents.

Remove a table of contents

You can remove a table of contents if it's no longer required.

To remove a table of contents:

  1. Click in the table of contents.
  2. Click the References tab in the Ribbon and click Table of Contents in the Table of Contents group. A drop-down menu appears.
  3. Select Remove Table of Contents.

You can also select the entire table of contents by dragging over it and then pressing Delete.

Table of contents can be generated easily from built-in heading styles so it's best to use the built-in styles when formatting your Word documents rather than creating new styles for headings.

This article was first published on February 8, 2020 and has been updated for clarity and content.

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Summary
How to Create a Table of Contents in Word
Article Name
How to Create a Table of Contents in Word
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You can create a table of contents quickly in Word using built-in heading styles. Although you can insert a table of contents (TOC) using different strategies in Word documents, it’s easiest to use Heading 1, Heading 2 and so on to format headings and then generate your table of contents. You can then change the formatting and update the TOC when your document changes.
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Avantix Learning

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