A table of contents for a long document is often a must! Using Word’s built-in feature, you can quickly generate a table of contents with headings that link to their respective sections. It’s easy, quick, and you don’t need a lot of specialized knowledge. This feature also has advanced options for handling more complex needs. You should also learn how to adapt when Word’s built-in heading styles aren’t adequate for a document. We’ll continue this review of advanced table of contents features in subsequent articles.

If you don’t know how to generate a table of contents, you might want to read “How to insert a table of contents into a Word document” and then return to this article, which assumes that you already know the basics. I’ll be working in Word 2013 on a Windows 7 system. You can use any simple document with headings or download the demonstration .docx or .doc file.

A basic table of contents

When a simple table of contents (TOC) will do, use Word’s built-in headings. Doing so allows Word to quickly map each heading to its section. Figure A shows a simple document and table of contents with the following styles:

  • Galleries: Title
  • Quick Access: Heading 1
  • Quick Format: Heading 2
  • Quick Themes: Heading 1
  • Theme Gallery: Heading 2
  • Quick Styles: Heading 3

To generate the TOC, position the cursor, click the References tab, click Table of Contents in the Table of Contents group, and choose a format from the resulting gallery. Notice that the Galleries heading isn’t included in the basic TOC; we’ll discuss this omission later.

Figure A

The sample table of contents is typical of those with basic requirements.

If you’re using Word 2003, choose Reference from the Insert menu, and then choose Index and Tables. Click the Table of Contents tab, and click OK. I won’t repeat 2003 steps, but I will note significant differences.

Tip 1: Determine levels

There are nine heading styles and the TOC, by default, will include three. You can easily change this setting to include more or fewer. As you can see in Figure A, there are three levels, Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3. Let’s update the existing TOC so that it displays only two, as follows:

  1. On the References tab, click Table of Contents in the Table of Contents group.
  2. In the resulting drop-down, choose Custom Table of Contents below the gallery options. In Word 2010, use Insert Table of Contents.
  3. Change the Show levels option to 2 (Figure B).
    Figure B
  4. Click OK.
  5. When Word prompts you to replace the selected TOC, click Yes.

Now, the TOC (shown in Figure C) displays only two levels. Specifically, the TOC no longer displays the Quick Styles heading at the end of the document. If you know from the get-go what you want, don’t select an option from the gallery when generating the TOC. Instead, choose the Custom Table of Contents option (step 2).

Figure C

Modify the number of levels.

Tip 2: Change heading attributes

Using built-in heading styles makes quick work of generating a TOC, but those headings might not meet your organization’s requirements. Don’t worry about that. Go ahead and use the built-in styles and then change the style’s attributes to meet your specific needs. Let’s demonstrate how easy this is by changing the Heading 1 style in our example document, as follows:

  1. Click inside any of the Heading 1 headings.
  2. Click the Home tab and change the format as required. For instance, change the font color to orange and select the Small Caps option (Figure D). Use the Font group’s dialog launcher to open the Font dialog. In Word 2003, right-click a heading, choose Font, and make your changes.
    Figure D
  3. Click OK.

After changing one instance of the heading, you can update them all as follows:

  1. Right-click the selected heading in the Styles Gallery (on the Home tab). In Word 2003, choose Styles and Formatting from the Format menu.
  2. In the resulting list, select Update Heading 1 to Match Selection (Figure E). In Word 2003, choose Update to Match Selection from the style’s drop-down list.
    Figure E

The results are shown in Figure F. All Heading 1 headings are now orange and in small caps. Also notice that the Contents heading in the TOC changed! You might not have expected this change. Remember, you updated the style, so all instances of that style will update as well. In a single document, this will usually be what you want, but I wanted you to see the possibilities.

Figure F

Update a heading style.

Tip 3: Include non-heading styles

Word didn’t include the Galleries heading in the TOC because it isn’t a heading style. By default, Word includes only the heading styles, Heading 1 through Heading 9. Fortunately, you can map other styles for use in your TOC. Let’s demonstrate this option by adding the Galleries heading to the TOC as follows:

  1. Click the References tab, and then click Table of Contents in the Table of Contents group.
  2. In the resulting drop-down, choose Custom Table of Contents.
  3. In the resulting dialog, click Options.
  4. The next dialog displays the styles in use (only) and how those styles are mapped to the TOC levels. Currently, only two styles, Heading 1 and Heading 2, are mapped as levels 1 and 2, respectively (Figure G).
    Figure G
  5. Scroll through the styles list until you find Title, which has no mapped TOC level.
  6. Enter 1 to map Title to the TOC top level (Figure H).
    Figure H
  7. Click OK twice.
  8. When prompted to replace the selected table of contents, click Yes.

Figure I shows the resulting TOC. Galleries is now on the same level as Heading 1. If you want to bump the other headings down a level, update the level manually. You can also map custom styles this way. The only requirement is that the style must be in use before mapping.

Figure I

Map other styles to the TOC.

What’s up next

In the next TOC-specific article, I’ll show you how to map a custom style to add a summary statement to a TOC heading.

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