How to Design a Table of Contents in Google Docs

If you're like many authors, you use Google Docs at some point during your book-writing process. Whether it's a place to jot down character notes or you use it to write your entire book, there's plenty to like about this word processor. Not the least of which is the fact it comes free with a Google account.

But if you use Google Docs for anything, you'll need to know how to take advantage of some of its features. So read on as we go over how to design a table of contents in Google Docs.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. Who Needs a Table of Contents?
  2. Formatting and Inserting Your ToC
  3. Updating Your Google Table of Contents

Why Insert a Table of Contents?

There are a couple of reasons why you may want a table of contents (ToC) in your Google doc. Not only will it help people like editors or proofreaders navigate, but it can also help you navigate the document.

Even more importantly, most (if not all) online bookstores require your finished product to have a table of contents before publishing. ToCs are used by readers more often in nonfiction books than in fiction books, but they both should have them for easy reader navigation.

And while formatting your finished manuscript before you can sell it is beyond the scope of this article, having a table of contents in place before you start can certainly help.

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Formatting Your Google Doc for a Table of Contents

Before you insert your ToC, ensure that your content is formatted properly. When we're talking about chapter headings, you'll want to ensure that they're formatted in heading style 1.

To do this, locate and highlight the header text you want to format. Then navigate up to the Styles dropdown menu and click on it. Then click on the Heading 1 option.

Google Docs Apply Heading 1

Repeat this process for all chapter headings. You can also format subheadings and sub-subheadings using heading style options 2 and 3. Just be aware that anything you format in this manner will show up in the ToC. So if you only want your chapter headings to show up in the ToC, then those should be the only ones you format.

When compared to Microsoft Word, Google Docs is a little limited when it comes to ToCs. You can't create a custom table of contents in Google Docs like you can in MS Word, so you'll just have to work with what you have.

Once you have all the headings in your Google document formatted how you want them, it's time to insert the table of contents.

Bonus: Use the Navigation Pane to Get Around

When you have your chapter headings formatted, you can turn on the document outline on the left side of the text document. Sometimes called the navigation pane, this is really easy to turn on and off as you like. 

Navigation Option Google Docs

Simply locate the outline symbol and click it. Your document outline will show up on the left side, making it super easy to navigate your long document.

Navigation View Google Docs

Inserting Your Table of Contents

Once you're done formatting your main heading text, then you can easily add your ToC in just a few clicks. Just follow the simple steps below.

Step 1: Place Cursor

Find a place where you'd like to insert your table of contents to show up in your document. In most books, the ToC will come after the title page and the copyright page in the front matter of the book.

Step 2: Insert Table

Once you have the cursor where you want the ToC, navigate up to the Insert menu. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the Insert menu and hover over the Table of Contents option. You can choose between inserting a ToC with page numbers or a ToC with blue links.

Select Table of Contents Google Docs

Page number ToCs are generally used for print books, whereas blue link ToCs are usually used for ebooks. Choose your option and click on it!

That's it! You now have a Table of Contents in your Google doc. 

But what if you make changes to the document after you insert your ToC? You'll need to know how to update the table.

Updating Your Google Docs Table of Contents

If you make any changes to your document, you'll need to update your ToC to ensure everything is accurate. Even changing one line of text or one paragraph style can affect multiple sections.

Luckily, doing this is simple. All you need to do is click inside the table of contents box near the top. You'll see a refresh symbol appear at the top left corner of the table. Click the symbol and the ToC will update.

Update Table of Contents Google Docs

You can also right-click inside the table of contents box and select the Update Table of Contents option. This is also where you can delete the table if need be.

Right-Click Update Table Google Docs

Choosing Your Best Option

When it comes to utility and navigation, Google Docs is adequate. But when it comes time to create a professional ebook or print book, this word processor is sorely lacking.

That's why we like to tell authors about Atticus. This all-in-one writing tool not only makes formatting a breeze, but it can also create an amazing and functional table of contents with just a few clicks.

Table of Contents in Atticus

It also functions as a word processor, offering tools to keep on top of your daily or weekly writing goals, and things like ProWritingAid integration for easier proofreading.

Table of Contents Preview in Atticus

And unlike a lot of writing tools out there, Atticus is not subscription based. You pay once, and you get all future updates for free.

Click here to check out Atticus today

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