How to Make a Table of Contents in Microsoft Word

A few simple steps can help you create an easy-to-navigate document

Document Planning
Managing a large document can be complex--an automatic Table of Contents can keep it organized and updated.

 Getty Images

Microsoft Word has a great built-in capability for quickly creating a Table of Contents that can be instantly updated to reflect additions and changes within your document. The Table of Contents can act as both a guide and navigation tool within the document, enabling readers to quickly find the information they need.

The easiest way to build and maintain a Table of contents is by using Styles within the document; when you insert a Table of Contents in Microsoft Word, the text marked by specified styles appears in the table automatically in the order the text appears in the document. This article will walk you through how to insert a Table of Contents in Microsoft Word 2016, 2013, and 2010 — the process does not vary greatly between Mac and Windows versions. 

Word Online doesn't allow for inserting a Table of Contents, but it will preserve one in a document where it already exists.

Step 1: Apply Styles to the Document

The Home tab of Microsoft Word contains the Styles toolbox, which is key to creating a document prepared to have a Table of Contents inserted easily. Heading 1 is the highest level of a Table of Contents by default. Heading 2 is the subheading, falling into the Table of Contents with an indentation.

If you’re writing new that text you want to fall in the Table of Contents, select Heading 1 (for main topics) or Heading 2 (for subtopics). When you’re finished writing your headings, selecting Enter should default your text back to the Normal style for your body text. The Normal style does not appear in the Table of Contents.

Home Tab > Styles Bar to set Headings for automatic Table of Contents
Using the Styles tools allows consistent application of headings types for a quick and easy addition of a Table of Contents.

You may be working with a document that's already written and needs a Table of Contents added, but you want to preserve the font and formatting of the document. If you’d like to customize the automatic headings to match what's already used in existing documents, you can do that in two steps. First, select the heading or subheading text, then in the Style bar, right-click the desired heading and select Update Heading 1 to match selection.

Update Headings Styles Word Table of Contents
You can adjust heading styles to match an existing document by highlighting the text and updating your desired heading to match existing formatting.

Heading 1 will now match the existing font, size, and formatting of the text you selected and this style can now be applied throughout the document. The same steps can be used to update any of the preset styles — changes to styles through this method will only be saved for the current document. Using heading styles gives your document consistent structure and formatting, not to mention the benefit of quickly adding a Table of Contents.

Step 2: Insert a Table of Contents

Inserting a Table of Contents into a document already utilizing heading styles is done by following these steps. Note: This process works for versions of Microsoft Word from 2003 onward on both Mac and Windows.

  1. Place your cursor where you want the Table of Contents to be in the document.
  2. Select the References tab. Note: For Word 2003 and earlier you’ll need to select Insert > Reference > Tables and Indexes, then click the Table of Contents option.
  3. Click Table of Contents, located in the Table of Contents group.
  4. Choose one of the "Automatic" table of content styles listed.
How to insert a Table of Contents Word 2016 2010
The References tab contains the Table of Contents option, allowing you to select from two different automated options that are easily inserted into your document.

Your Table of Contents is now inserted into your Word document. Heading 1 styles are listed highest, with Heading 2 styles appearing as subheadings. The title of your Table of Contents is determined by default but can be updated by clicking it and inserting your own text.

Step 3: Update Your Table of Contents

The benefit of using heading styles to create an automatic Table of Contents is that it can be instantly updated to reflect changes. To update your Table of Contents, simply click it, then select Update Table.

You then have the choice to update the entire Table of Contents (text and page numbers) or to update page numbers only. When applying heading styles that are incorporated automatically, you should opt to update the entire table to account for any text edits or page changes within the document.

How to update table of contents in Microsoft Word
Clicking your Table of Contents activates the controls to select "Update Table," which then gives the option of updating page numbers only or the entire table.

Step 4: Use and Customize the Table of Contents

An automatic Table of Contents has hyperlinks built in to navigate through the document quickly. To use a hyperlink, hover the mouse over the appropriate entry in the Table of Contents and Control+Click to follow the link. This is an especially helpful tool for readers of long documents.

There are also many ways to customize your Table of Contents. The font and size can be adjusted by highlighting the text as you normally would in a Word document, then using the Home tab to select a font, size, color, etc. Advanced options for customizing the Table of Contents are accessed via the Edit Field option through right-clicking on the Table of Contents text.

Microsoft Word Table of Contents can be customized with font options and advanced controls
Users can apply Font styles to Table of Content text, or right-click on the Table of Contents text and select "Edit Field" for advanced options.

With the Field menu open, scroll down in the list on the left to select TOC, then click Table of Contents to open the advanced editing options.

Microsoft Word Table of Contents Field Menu for advanced customization
The Field menu requires users to select "TOC" to access the advance customization options for a Table of Contents.

The Table of Contents window provides various options including:

  • Showing/hiding page numbers and determining their alignment;
  • Changing the tab leader to be dots, dashes, or blank;
  • Determining how many levels of heading styles to show in the Table of Contents;
  • The option to use hyperlinks instead of page numbers, including a preview of how the document will look.
Table of Contents Options
The Table of Contents menu provides several ways to change the look and function of your table.

Clicking Options in the Table of Contents menu allows you to assign a TOC Level to specific headings. The default matches the heading number — for example, Heading 1 = Level 1 — but it can be altered if you aren't using every heading, or prefer the formatting of one heading over another because it didn't fit your need.

Microsoft Word Table of Contents Options
The Options window lets users name specific headings to outline levels, or reset them to the default setting.

Styles enable you to insert a Table of Contents quickly with the ability to customize it to your liking and instantly update it as needed. By applying formats consistently throughout your document, you also benefit from a professional, consistent look.