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Formatting Tips for Making a Table of Contents

Jul 29, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jul 29, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

How to format a Table of Contents

Like you would never be caught without your trusty checklist, you shouldn’t be without formatting tips for creating a good table of contents that looks as good on the page as it does in your head. A well-formatted TOC gives an immediate snapshot of the information within and is an essential help to readers. It’s also one of the easiest ways to elevate the quality of your writing. Here are our top recommendations when formatting MLA or APA style paper:

  • When constructing a TOC, use Word’s built-in heading styles—don’t highlight text and make it bold or larger.
  • Make sure all other heading levels match one another—this will result in a consistent look and feel throughout your document.
  • Use Word’s built-in table of contents tool—don’t type table of contents manually.
  • Remember to update your good table of contents before printing



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Format Your Document for a TOC

Once you have completed your final draft and thoroughly proofread your paper, it’s time to create your TOC. First, go to the beginning of your paper and insert a blank page for the TOC. You can do this by clicking on the “Insert” tab in Microsoft Word or hitting “Command-Shift-Enter” on a Mac.

Centering your ToC

On the other hand, centering your table of contents can positively affect your aesthetic. The centered format makes the headings stand out more, and the spacing between them creates some white space within the table of contents.

If you are using Google Docs or the web word, you can select your table of contents and click on “center” in the toolbar to align it. There is also a center option in the Paragraph section if you use Word. You can also press Ctrl-E to center align your document.

Making your headings match your ToC

Use consistent heading styles, capitalization, spacing, and formatting to make sure your title matches the ToC.

In the “Styles” section of the “Home” tab in Microsoft Word, you can see a list of all the different styles you can use: Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. Use these heading styles to format your headings.

For example, create a “ToC” heading style that uses certain formatting to match the ToC. You might then decide that every heading should have a blue background with white text by applying the “ToC” style to your headings.

Updating your Table of Contents

You can use Microsoft Word’s Table of Contents feature to do this job. However, before you start typing your table of contents, make sure that your document is formatted using desktop Word styles.

Once you’ve inserted the automatic table of contents into your long document, it will not be updated automatically as the main content changes. You must update the field yourself when needed. Luckily, this is easy to do:

  • Click in the table of contents to select it or place the cursor near it
  • Click “Update Table” in the Table of Contents group on the References tab
  • Select “Update entire table” and click Ok

Setting up automatic page numbers and headings

Formatting your headings correctly will also make it easy to automatically number and insert them into the Table of Contents. Numbering your headings consistently throughout the document lets Word recognize similar-style headings and automatically pull them into the Table of Contents. It also enabled you to update page numbers by clicking the table of contents button.

You can create your format style if you use a heading style that isn’t already in the template (like Heading 1, 2, or 3). While it’s possible to apply bold formatting and large font size, this method is less reliable than using heading styles. It can lead to unexpected results if you edit or reorder your headings later.

To format a new heading style:

  • Select the text you want to use as a heading. You can select only one paragraph at a time.
  • On the Home tab, in the Font group, click Format > Formatting Effects: choose Boldly.
  • On the Home tab, in the Font group, click Size: choose 24.
  • Right-click anywhere on your selection: select Apply Styles > options: Create New Style from Selection. Give your new style an appropriate name (Heading 4?), then click OK.

Using links in place of page numbers in your ToC

  • If you click on a cell, you will select the entire row, highlighted.
  • To insert a link and change the text in that cell, right-click on the selected cell and choose Insert Link from the menu that appears.
  • A window called Insert Hyperlink will appear, containing a field called Address where you can type or paste in a URL of your choice (in this case, a placeholder URL of https://www.example.com) and click OK when done. You’ll then see the text in that cell turn blue with an underline to indicate it’s now a hyperlink to your chosen address (and if you hover over it with your mouse pointer, you’ll see the URL pop up as well).
  • Once those changes have been made, highlight all cells containing links (you can multi-select by holding down Shift while clicking other cells), right-click on one of them, and choose to Remove Hyperlinks from the menu that appears to remove all links at once, so they don’t take effect until after printing out or exporting as PDF.

Creating a clickable table of contents (for eBooks and PDFs)

You can use clickable tables of contents for various purposes, including jumping to new sections in eBooks, PDF documents, and online help files.

To create a clickable table of contents in Google Docs, add bookmarks to your headings. Then insert the Table of Contents gadget into your document by going to Insert > Table of contents. You can also select the text you want to be linked to and go to Insert > Bookmark.

In Word: Follow the same steps as creating any table of contents (Insert tab > Table of Contents), but then double-click on each item in it and press Ctrl+K (PC) or Command+K (Mac) to turn it into a hyperlink. You can also highlight the text you want to be turned into a link and press that keyboard shortcut.

Create a clickable table of contents in Word

Now that your Word document is formatted with built-in applied heading styles, you can easily create a table of contents.

To create a table of contents:

  • Click where you want to insert the table of contents – usually near the beginning of a document.
  • Click References > Table of Contents and then choose an Automatic Table of Contents style from the list. If no Automatic Table 1 or 2 is available in the list, click Insert Table of Contents to open a dialog box for more options. A manual table will be inserted at your current cursor position using placeholder text (TOC) as shown below:
  • Right-click on TOC and select Update Field from the shortcut menu. In the Update Field dialog box that appears, click OK to update your TOC entries in one fell swoop!

Create a clickable table of contents in Google Docs

To add a clickable table of contents to your document, follow these steps:

  • Open the Google Doc in your browser.
  • Highlight the text you want to link and click the “Link” button in the toolbar.
  • In the box that appears, click the dropdown menu and select “Place in This Document.”
  • Please select where you want to jump by clicking on it in the list that appears. Click “Apply” when you’re done.

Table of Contents Examples

Check the various table of contents examples here. The various table of contents examples include:

  1. Single Level TOC
  2. Subdivided TOC
  3. Multi-Level TOC
  4. Academic TOC
  5. Lab Notebook Table of Contents
  6. Employee Handbook Table of Contents
  7. Business Plan Table of Contents
  8. Book Table of Contents
  9. APA Table of Contents
  10. Legal Table of Contents
  11. Portfolio Table of Contents

Final thoughts on Formatting Table of Content

Your Custom Table of Contents should include the following:

  • An overview. A good ToC provides an overview of your document’s structure and content.
  • Easy navigation. Let readers skip to the sections they’re interested in using links or page numbers for quick reference.
  • ‘Table of Contents title. Only capitalize the first Word, proper nouns, and acronyms in your title.
  • A good spot. Place your ToC where readers expect it to be (usually at the beginning of a document).
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