How to Design a Table of Contents in Word

If you're like many authors, you use Microsoft Word to write and edit your book manuscript. While there are plenty of options for dedicated book-writing tools, many people stick with the program they know. And Microsoft Word has been around for a long time.

Plus, most editors prefer to work in Word for the purposes of tracking changes. If you use this word processor for any part of your book writing process, it's very helpful to know how to design a table of contents in Word.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. How to insert a table of contents in your MS Word document.
  2. How to update the ToC after you make changes.
  3. How to design a custom table of contents.

Why Do You Need a Table of Contents?

Every book needs a Table of Contents (ToC). Some fiction authors may be able to get away with not putting one in their print books, but this is certainly not the norm.

In fact, if you're self-publishing an ebook, online retailers (Amazon included) require that you have a ToC. This makes navigation much easier for readers, allowing them to click on a chapter heading in the ToC and go directly to that chapter.

For most nonfiction books, a table of contents is a must for both ebook and print versions. Once again, they allow readers to navigate the book with ease.

Luckily, inserting a ToC into your Word document is a simple affair!

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How to Insert a Built-In Table of Contents in Word

For fiction books and narrative nonfiction, all you need is a built-in ToC in your book. Follow the steps below to quickly and easily insert one!

Step 1: Verify Heading Styles

Before you create your ToC, you'll need to go through and ensure you have the proper heading formats in place. For chapter headings, you'll want to format with the H1 heading level.

To do this, highlight your chapter heading. A toolbar should pop up next to the highlighted text. Click on the Styles tab and select the Heading 1 style in the top right corner of the window (if it's not already selected).

Heading 1 MS Word

You can also change your heading style by placing the cursor inside the heading and navigating to the Styles button on your Home tab.

If you have any subheadings, format them using the Heading 2 style. For sub-subheadings, use Heading 3. 

Once you've done this throughout the entire manuscript, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Choose a Place for Your ToC

The table of contents should go in the front matter of the book after your title page and your copyright page. If you don't have these pages set up yet, don't worry about it. You can always add them later.

Simply navigate to the front of the book and place your cursor after your copyright page (if you have one).

If you would like the ToC on its own page (suggested), navigate up to the Insert tab. On the far left side of the Insert tab, select Page Break. This will add the page on which your ToC will show up.

Insert Page Break MS Word

If you don't want a dedicated page for your table of contents, simply move to step three after placing your cursor where you’d like the ToC to appear. 

Step 3: Insert Your ToC

With the cursor in the appropriate place, navigate up to the References tab at the top of your screen. 

At the far left side of the toolbar, click the Table of Contents button. A dropdown menu will appear, giving you the option to pick from two built-in ToCs or a manual table

Insert Table of Contents MS Word

Select one of the first two options and let Word gather the page numbers and chapter headings for you.

Now your ToC is done! But what happens when you make a change to your book? You’ll need to know how to update your ToC before moving on. 

Step 4: Update Your ToC

Even adding a sentence or two can change where your chapter headings are located, so it's important to update your ToC after making any changes.

To do this, go to the top of the table of contents and click anywhere inside its borders. You'll see an option pop up at the top that says Update Table. Click it and the table will automatically update.

Update Table MS Word

How to Insert a Custom Table of Contents in Word

The built-in tables of contents will automatically pull the headings styles 1, 2, and 3. But what if you only want Heading 1 styles to show up? Or just Heading 1 and Heading 2, but no Heading 3?

Well, that means you need a custom ToC. Here's how to do that.

Built-In Table of Contents MS Word

As you can see from the picture above of the finished ToC, I formatted my chapter breaks with the Heading 2 style. (These are the *** you can see under the Chapter 3 and Chapter 5 headings.) 

This means they show up on my table of contents as subheads. I don't want them to do that, so I need to start from scratch. So I delete the existing table by clicking on the little paper next to the Update Table option and selecting the Remove Table of Contents option. Now I'm ready for a custom table.

Step 1: Choose to Insert a Custom Table

Back in the References tab, choose the Table of Contents menu once again. From the Table of Contents options, select Custom Table of Contents.

Insert Custom Table of Contents MS Word

A table of contents dialog box will appear. This is where you can specify the parameters of your custom table.

Using the example of the table above, all you would have to do to make sure only Heading 1 styles show up in your ToC is reduce the Show Levels option to 1.

Table of Contents Dialog Box MS Word

Conversely, if you wanted your ToC to go into more detail, you could increase the number. Provided you used the appropriate styles for your headings, they would show up with a page number in your custom ToC.

This is also where you can change the Table of Contents style using the Formats option.

Once you're done, click OK and check out your new custom table to ensure it looks good.

Step 2: Update Your Custom Table of Contents

Once you're finished with the Table of Contents dialog box and your new table is inserted, you'll still need to be able to update it. But doing so with a custom ToC is a little different from updating a built-in ToC.

To update your MS Word Table of Contents, simply right-click anywhere on the table. From the menu that pops up, select the Update Field option.

Update Field MS Word

An Update Table of Contents window will pop up from which you can select to update page numbers only or the entire table. If you haven't added any new sections, then you can update the page numbers only. But if you've added new chapter headings, then you'll want to update the entire table.

Update Custom Table of Contents MS Word

Pick your option and click OK for automatic table updating.

Pro Tip: If you're completely done with the manuscript, it's a good idea to go ahead and update the entire table, just to make sure everything is good to go.

Bonus: Use the Navigation Pane to Quickly Navigate Your Long Document

Now that you have all your chapter headings and subheadings formatted, you can use the Navigation Pane to jump around your manuscript quickly.

Just go to the View tab and select the Navigation Pane Show option. A view of your book from the outline level will show up on the left side of your screen. It's kind of like a Table of Contents tab that is constantly with you, no matter where you are in the Microsoft Word Document!

Navigation Pane MS Word

Of course, if you've already been using this nifty feature, then setting up a Table of Contents should be a breeze since you've been formatting your chapter headings all along.

You're Done With Your Manuscript – Now What?

The hardest part is done. You've written and edited your book. Now you have to package it for sale through Amazon and/or the dozens of other online retailers. That means formatting your book for print and ebook sales.

But if you don't know just what to do (or choose a complicated option), then this can be even more trying than getting those thousands of words down.

That's why we suggest using Atticus for your formatting needs. Atticus actually does a lot more than just formatting, but we find it's the thing most authors like best about the tool.

What Can Atticus Do

With Atticus, you can upload your manuscript with a couple of clicks and then choose from over a dozen pre-made formatting options. You can even see what the finished product will look like before exporting. 

As long as your headings are properly formatted, Atticus will automatically generate a professional-looking and functional Table of Contents. You can always make adjustments to the table if you wish. No matter how you cut it, it’s much easier (and faster) than designing a ToC in Word. 

Table of Contents Preview in Atticus

Once you find a style that you like and double-check to make sure everything is as it should be in your book, you can export the files you need with just a few more clicks. You'll get an EPUB file for use with every major retailer, and a print-ready PDF for print-on-demand services.

Check out Atticus here to discover how this all-in-one tool can help turn your Word Document into a professional book!

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