If you’re working on a document that’s longer than a few pages, your readers will definitely be grateful if you include a table of contents. A little bit of effort on your part will make things easier for anyone leafing through the text later on.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places online that offer up templates for exactly this purpose — although the quality of individual examples can vary quite dramatically. To save you some of the legwork, we’ve assembled a list of ten all-purpose templates that make it quick and easy to implement a handy table of contents in Microsoft Word.
Here are some tips on making effective use of a table of contents, as well as ten examples to get you started.
Deciding how to divide up your document into chapters or sections is an important factor in deciding what sort of table of contents is appropriate. If it’s a particularly long text that needs to be broken down into sections and subsections, then you’ll need the complexity of an advanced template to properly map out the document. For a shorter document, a simpler option will suffice.
Of course, the specifics will depend entirely on the sort of document you’re working with, but having each section span somewhere between one to three pages is a good aim. If you include too many sections, the table of contents is going to run as long as the document itself, but too few mean that it’s not offering any utility in terms of navigation.
Try to structure your document such that each section relates to one particular topic. This is a good habit to get into to ensure that your work hits its mark in terms of quality, but it will also make things much easier when it’s time to make a table of contents that a reader will find helpful.
Table of Contents 1 (.pdf)
Table of Contents 2 (.pdf)
Table of Contents 3 (.doc)
Table of Contents 4 (.doc)
Table of Contents 5
While the above templates will work for many projects that require a table of contents, some document types might need something a little more advanced. Whether you’re submitting research as part of your academic career or simply trying to produce a document that meets your own exact specifications, there’s lots to consider when you’re deciding upon a table of contents.
Many of these advanced examples will make extensive use of subsections, sometimes even employing Word’s table formatting functionality to make sure everything is neatly presented. It’s important to consider whether your table of contents is fulfilling its intended purpose of making the document easier to read through — it’s likely to be the first impression that your reader gets of your work, so if it’s messy and confusing, you will be at a disadvantage right off the bat.
If you’re working on a document like a research grant or a university dissertation, your table of contents can be a big help to yourself as well as the reader. Use it as a checklist to make sure that each element of your project has made it into the final draft — your table of contents should act as a streamlined point-by-point delineation of the document as a whole, so treat it as a means of checking that all the most important content is present and correct.
Table of Contents 6 (.pdf)
Table of Contents 7 (.doc)
Table of Contents 8 (.doc)
Table of Contents 9
Table of Contents 10 (.doc)
Once you’ve found a template that you’re happy with, all you really need to do is open up Microsoft Word to sub in your own section titles and page numbers. However, you might find that spending a bit more time perfecting your table of contents is worth the effort for a superior finished product.
Styling Your Table of Contents
You can make visual tweaks in the same way you would in any other Microsoft Word document — but be careful because minor changes to the size of text and the fonts being used can have undesired efffects on the careful formatting that makes these templates useful.
The problem with the above image is that the dots used to space each entry are set up as text, rather than a dot leader. If this is a case with the template you want to use, here’s the fix; first, use the horizontal rule to set the desired tab stop. Next, head to the Home tab and click the dialog box launcher on the Paragraph section.
Click Tabs, then choose the type of Leader that you want to use in your table of contents. The spacing should now correct itself to look uniform, regardless of the length of the text string.
Another important point to remember when styling your table of contents is that its function shouldn’t be impeded by its form. This section of your document will be used for reference, so it’s not the right place to show off your varied collection of typefaces.
Keeping Your Table of Contents Accurate
If you’re continually working on a document, you may find that further edits throw off your page numbers and force you to keep updating your table of contents manually. To avoid this situation, you can use Microsoft Word’s built-in table of contents functionality to keep things up to date.
Head to the References tab and use the Table of Contents dropdown to access the different options available.
Note that this functionality isn’t easily combined with the templates offered earlier in this guide — however, there are a few templates offered up in Microsoft Word itself, as well as a manually constructed option.
Despite giving you less control on how your table of contents is styled, this method lends some major advantages in terms of navigability. Your table of contents will act as hyperlinks to individual sections when viewed on a computer, and the page numbers will of course be kept accurate without any action on your part.
Now that you’ve got a grip on your table of contents, you can plan a meeting to sit down with your editor.
Do you have a useful table of contents template you’re eager to share with other users? Or are you looking for help integrating these templates into a document? Join the conversation in the comments section below.