Have you ever had to painstakingly reorder and re-number a hand-typed table of contents at the end of a project, just because you decided to move some sections around? With a little bit of planning ahead, you will never have to type another table of contents again! Let Microsoft Word do the work, and rest assured your page numbers will always be correct.
One caveat – to make an automatic table of contents (TOC), you will have to overcome your fear of using the styles in Word. They can be intimidating! But use them to your advantage, and you’ll be glad you did.
The simple way to identify what needs to be in your future TOC is to apply a style to it; this way, Word knows that you want that line to be a heading, and then picks it up for your table later on.
You do this by selecting the line that is will be your heading, and choosing a style from the Styles section of the ribbon. The style you see here is a customized one that we use in our documents. Here is a quick tutorial on how to edit your own styles, from Microsoft.
You can apply other styles to different parts of the document to get different levels in your TOC. Word will use Heading 1 as the first level, and then Heading 2 as the second level, and so on.
Once your document has all of your headings in, you can use Word’s Table of Contents tool to generate it for you.
Place your cursor where you want your TOC to be generated, usually right at the beginning of the document. Click on the References section of the ribbon, and then the Table of Contents button. You can choose from a few default options, or customize your TOC. I often find that the initial automatically created TOC is perfect for our needs, usually in contracts, proposals and quote documents.
Then, this beautiful thing will appear in your document:
If you continue to work on your document, and end up adding more sections, and even changing pages around, you can update that TOC with minimal effort. Click inside your TOC, and the menu “Update Table” will appear at the top. You can choose to simply update page numbers or update the entire table. Updating page numbers won’t change the formatting of your table, if you’ve applied any edits to it after inserting it. Updating the table will regenerate the entire table from your existing marked headings, so if you’ve applied any styles or formatting to the table, these will need reapplied if you regenerate it.
Planning ahead just a little when starting up a document can really save you a lot of time in the long run. If you know you’ll be working on a large proposal or document with a lot of sections, making sure to apply those heading styles as you work can really help you out when it comes time to generate that TOC. I hope this little trick saves you some time and frustration!