How to Create a Table of Contents in Word & Free Templates

Dan Price 22-09-2016

Making a table of contents isn’t just for people who are writing novels, lengthy legal documents, or dissertations. They are a great way to keep your writing organized, regardless of the content.


Perhaps you keep adding recipes to a master list and want shortcuts to each item? Maybe you’re creating a life-log 20+ Fun Ways to Start a Lifelog in 2016 There are more ways than ever to start lifelogging in 2016, so we take a look at some of the best apps, services, and gadgets that can help you. Read More  or a journal? Or perhaps you just want to impress your boss with your Microsoft Office knowledge?

Whatever your situation, a contents list can improve navigation and make your document shine.

In this article, I take a look at how to create your own table of contents in four easy steps. Keep reading to the end for some cool free templates.

1. Create Your Contents

Before you can start customizing how your contents look and work, you’ll first need to create a basic outline. Thankfully, this is a painless process.

I’m going to use a list of (really bad!) recipes as an example throughout this piece. In the image below, you can see how it looks in Word with some very basic formatting. This is the starting point.


Basic Recipes in Word

Firstly, you need to apply heading styles to the text you want to eventually appear in your table of contents. Highlight the appropriate text, then navigate to the Home tab and choose the heading you want. In this example, I’m using Heading 1.

Choose Heading Format in Word

It should look like this:


Text With Heading Format in Word

The next step is to let Word automatically build the contents for you.

Place your cursor wherever you want the contents to appear. For a list of recipes, you’d probably want it at the very start for easy navigation, but if you’re writing a book you might want it a few pages in.

Next, head to the References tab and click on Table of Contents. If you’re happy for Word to do the legwork, click on either Automatic Table 1 or Automatic Table 2.


Add Table of Contents in Word

The new table will now magically appear in the desired place. To use the contents, hold CTRL and click on the entry you want to jump to.

Don’t worry if you make changes to the document and move sections or pages around. You can automatically update the contents by clicking Update Table at the top of the list.

Update Table Contents in Word


2. Adding Levels

You might have noticed that my table doesn’t look very good at the moment. In my original text, I had Chicken and Beef as subsections of Madras Curry, and Egg Salad and Chicken Salad as subsections of Salads — but at the moment those subtleties are not reflected.

I need to tweak it.

The first step is to reassign some of the headings you previously selected. Instead of choosing Heading 1 for all the items, select Heading 2 for the subsections, Heading 3 for the sub-subsections, and so on.

In the picture below, I have added a Heading 2 and 3 to demonstrate the process.

Headings Applied in Word

Next, you need to head back to References > Table of Contents, but this time, click on Custom Table of Contents.

You’ll be presented with a series of options in a new window. At the bottom of the window, you will see a section called General. Make sure you have the Show Levels option set to the correct amount.

Custon Table of Contents in Word

Hit OK and your contents will be updated.

3. Improving the Aesthetics

Now I have a list of contents that’s more representative of the layout of my document How to Customize Microsoft Word Layout Settings Microsoft Office comes with many useful templates, styles, and themes. We'll show you all the settings you need to create your own custom layout in Word 2013 and Word 2016. Read More , but it still looks a bit bland.

Thankfully, you can refine the style from within the aforementioned Custom Table of Contents options.

Try playing around with the different formats — Word gives you six alternatives to choose from. You can also decide whether you would like to include tab leaders (the dots or dashes between the text and the page numbers), how you would like the page numbers to be aligned, and even if you want to include page numbers at all.

4. Formatting the Text

If you’ve used one of Word’s six templates, there is a good chance you want to further tweak the text.

For example, I would like to indent the Extra Hot subsection so it stands out from the chicken and beef curry.

Go back to the Custom Table of Contents options, click on Modify, choose the level you want to edit, and then click on Modify again.

Custom Table of Contents Edit Styles in Word

You’ll be shown a screen like this:

Custom Table of Contents Modify Style in Word

It works just like the normal word processing features: you can set the font size, choose the color, add indents, and make a variety of other edits.

Word Custom Table of Contents Example

Download Free Table of Contents Templates

Are you feeling uninspired by Word’s offerings and overwhelmed by the customization options? Don’t worry — there are lots of free templates available online. We have already covered ten of the best Best Table of Contents Template Examples for Microsoft Word A good-looking table of contents template will give your documents a professional look. We have the best examples around. Read More elsewhere on the site, but here are three more to try out.

1. Thesis Table of Contents

This list takes on a classic academic look, with room for various lists, tables, and images, as well as a bibliography and acknowledgments.

Word Thesis Table of Contents Template

2. Research Grant Application

This is a great template to use if you want to take a business proposal to a bank or present a project idea to your company.

Word Research Grant Table of Contents Template

3. Textbook Contents

These contents will look great if you’re writing a factual book or putting together your own learning course.

Word Textbook Table of Contents Template

They can all be downloaded from

How to Use Free Templates

Free templates do not automatically include hyperlinks to your sections, you’ll need to add them yourself.

It’s easy to do, but you’ll first need to copy and paste the template into the desired position within your document and edit the text accordingly.

Before you start, make sure you have added headings to the correct parts of the text, as previously described. To add a hyperlink, highlight the necessary text in the contents, right-click, and click Hyperlink… .
Place Table of Contents Hyperlink in Word

Click Place in This Document on the left-hand side of the window and choose the correct heading from the list. Work through each item on the contents list to update them all.

Hyperlinked Table of Contents in Word

You can remove the underlining and the blue text using Word’s usual word processing features.

What Problems Did You Encounter?

I hope I have made these instructions simple to follow, but no doubt some of you will encounter difficulties or come across questions.

Whatever you issue, we can try and help. Leave your comments down below and our staff and our readers will try and help.

Related topics: Microsoft Office Tips, Microsoft Word, Office Templates.

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