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 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.
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.
It should look like this:
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.
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 around. You can automatically update the contents by clicking Update Table at the top of the list.
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.
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.
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, 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.
You’ll be shown a screen like this:
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.
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 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.
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.
3. Textbook Contents
These contents will look great if you’re writing a factual book or putting together your own learning course.
They can all be downloaded from templatelab.com.
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… .
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.
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.