Lack of knowledge about the Table of Content in Microsoft Word has made a lot of people try to perform this task manually. And more is yet to fall into this trap.

However, you are lucky because you found this guide.

After learning the lessons here, with just a few clicks, you will be able to create a nicely formatted accurate Table of Content in your Word document.

You’ll learn everything you need to know about how to make Table of Content (TOC) in Word.

Without any further ado, let’s get started.

What is a Table of Content in Microsoft Word

In the merest form, a table of content is a list of chapter titles. It could also be a list of headings in a document, including main headings and subheadings. The key tool used in Word to insert Table of Content is the heading styles. You can use the built-in heading styles or you can create your own heading styles.

However, the easiest way to perform this task is to use the built-in Heading styles to organize the headings, based on which the Table of Content will be generated.

If you try to make a table of content, Word will scan the whole document in search of headings with styles so that it can list them as part of the table of content.

This means that without heading styles, you cannot generate the automatic table of content in word.

The idea is to work smarter, not harder.

So, in the next section, I’ll show you how to automatically create table of content on Word using heading styles.

NOTE: You can apply the lessons on this guide on any version of Microsoft Word from Word 2007 to 2019 or Office 360.

Below is a video illustrating how to insert a Table of Content in Microsoft Word.

How to Make a Table of Content in Word?

I love learning with examples. If that works for you too, download the example file below.


Without further ado, below are the steps you can follow to successfully create a Table of Content in Microsoft Word:

  • Step 1: Set your heading styles

Word can automatically generate a Table of Content based on the heading styles you set throughout the document.

Therefore, the first thing you must do before you can insert an automatic Table of Content is to apply your heading styles.

Select the headings/paragraphs you want to appear in the TOC, one after the other, and apply the heading style to each one of them.

To apply a heading style, select the heading text, then go to Home > Styles, and select Heading 1 or 2 or 3.

Apply Heading Styles to headings that will appear in the Table of Content

If you want only your main headings to appear in the table of content, you’ll want to use Heading 1 style for the main headings throughout the document.

However, if you want your table of content to include your subheadings, use Heading 2 style for subheadings and Heading 3 style for sub subheading and so on.

Applying heading styles of the Table of Content
  • Step 2: Go to Reference > Table of Contents to Insert

After applying the heading styles, it is now easy to insert the table of content with some few clicks.

You have the option to either use an automatic table of content or design your own manually.

Let’s look at how do it using the automatic table of content option.

Creating an Automatic Table of Content

To insert the Automatic Table of Content in Microsoft Word, place the insertion pointer at the top of the page that will contain the Table of Content. Then Go to Reference > Table of Contents, and select either Automatic Table 1 or Automatic Table 2.

Automatic Table 1 inserts a label (Contents) followed by the Table of Content itself. And Automatic Table 2 inserts a label (Table of Contents), followed by the table of content.

NOTE: There’s another option called Manual Table of Content that allows you to fill out the entire list independently of the document content. Use this option at your own peril as it calls for a painstaking work which is what you may be trying to avoid.

Go to Reference>Table of Contents>Automatic Table 1

As soon as you click one of the options, MS Word will run through all the pages searching for paragraphs that have the heading styles applied to them and will insert the table of content at the specified position. 

See screenshot:

Table of content in inserted in Microsoft Word

All the heading1 styles that identify the chapters are found and inserted in the table of content. Heading2 and heading3 styles that identify subheadings and sub-sub headings respectively are found and inserted as well, along with the page number where each one falls.

If you take a look at the Table of Content carefully, you’ll notice that it uses the heading styles to determine the level each item begins. This indentation is to ensure a beautiful TOC.

See screenshot:

Table of Content Indentation Style

This is fast, isn’t it?

Imagine the time that you’ll waste should you try to perform this task manually.

Updating Your ToC

Now, you have successfully inserted your table of content.

However, if you made some editing in your document, move a chapter or two, or added new content, there’s a need to update your table of content. Some of the page numbers may have changed or even the heading content itself may need to update.

To update TOC in Word, obey the following instructions:

  • Right-click anywhere inside the table of content.
  • Then select Update Field in the shortcut menu.
Table of content in Word

As seen above, the Update Table of Content window appears with two options: Either to update page numbers only or to update the entire table.

  • Select Update page numbers only to refresh only the page numbers.
  • Select the Update entire table to rebuild the table of content.
  • Click OK.

After completing these steps, the table of content will update to reflect any changes depending on the update option you choose.

Bonus Tip: The entries of Word’s Table of Content are all hyperlinks. Press Ctrl+Click any entry to instantly follow the link to the page of that entry.

Creating a Custom Table of content (Advanced)

Both Automatic Table 1 and Automatic Table 2 may not meet your needs. If that’s the case, then the Custom Table of Content may be what you should try out.

However, the Custom Table of Content is for advanced users. Therefore, you must follow the instructions here very carefully if you want to customize your TOC using the Custom Table of Content feature.

Below are the steps to insert a custom Table of Content:

  • Step 1: Set your heading styles

As mentioned before, Word can automatically generate a Table of Content based on the heading styles you set throughout the document.

Thus, before you begin inserting your Table of Content, you need to select the headings/paragraphs you want to show in the table of content, one after the other, and apply the heading style to each one of them.

To apply a heading style, select the heading text, then go to Home > Styles, and select Heading 1, 2, or 3.

Apply Heading styles

After successfully applying the heading styles as in the above step, follow the remaining steps below to finally insert your Custom Table of Content.

  • Step 2: Place the insertion pointer at the top of the page that will contain the table of content.
  • Step 3: Type the title of the table. For example, Table of Content (that’s my favorite title). You can use a more interesting title that best suits your document.

You can use the heading style to format the ToC heading itself if you want it to also appear on the list. Otherwise, ignore it.

  • Step 4: Move to the next line. Hit the enter key after typing the title to get a new, blank line.
  • Step 5: Go to Reference > Table of Contents, and select Custom Table of Contents.

See screenshot:

Inserting Table of Content on Word: Go References>Table of Content>Custom Table of Contents

This step will display the Table of Contents dialog box, as shown below:

Table Of content Dialog

This window contains two previews: one is Print Preview for printed documents and the other is Web Preview for the web, which also counts for publishing e-books.

  • Step 6: Set the page numbers’ appearance.

Place a checkmark by the Show Page Numbers option if you want to display page numbers in your Table of Content.

Place a check mark by the Right Align Page Numbers option to align the page numbers to the right.

Seting page numbers and alignments

The Print Preview in the top left area of the window shows how the Table of Content will display depending on the page numbering options you select.

  • Step 7: Configure hyperlinks for web or eBook publishing.

Below the Web Preview at the top right area of the dialog shows a checkbox that gives you the chance to use hyperlinks instead of page numbers.

If your plan is to publish an eBook, click to place a checkmark by this option (Use Hyperlinks Instead of Page Numbers). Hyperlinks are more useful in eBooks or eDocuments than page numbers.

You can uncheck the options for page numbers if you plan to publish an eBook.

  • Step 8: Determine the levels you want for your TOC

The number of levels you can set for your Table of Content depends on how you apply the Heading styles throughout the document. For our example file, the TOC is set to 3 levels.

  • Step 9: Click OK to finally insert the Table of Content.

The table of content will be inserted successfully.

  • Step 10: Analyze the Table of Content

Don’t worry if you make a mistake. Just press Ctrl+Z (Undo) and start over again at step 5.

Optional Tip: Set a hard page break or section break on an empty line before and after the TOC. This way, you ensure that your TOC appears on a page or multiple pages by itself.

Fixing ToC Errors in Word

For some reason, you may be given some error messages when you try to make your Table of Content.

Below are some of the errors and their posible fixes.

No Table of Content Error

You’ve followed all the steps above only to see a message saying that: No table of contents entries found. If that happens, you’ll be presented with a dialog like the one in the picture below:

No table of content found

At times also, the table of contents may fail to pick up headings.

If your TOC shows the above message or does not pick up headings, it means one of two things: either you failed to assign proper heading styles throughout your documents or you failed to assign proper paragraph levels to your document styles.

Thus, to solve this problem, make sure you address the above-mentioned possible causes. Below steps will guide you though.

  • Fix 1: Apply Heading styles before generating the Table of Contents

As mentioned before, Word can automatically generate a Table of Content based on the heading styles you set throughout the document.

Therefore, the first thing you must do before you insert Word’s TOC is to apply your heading styles.

To apply a heading style, select the heading text, then go to Home > Styles, and select Heading 1, 2, or 3.

 See the illustration below:

How to apply Heading styles

After successfully applying the heading styles throughout your document, you can now insert the Table of Content without encountering the “No Table of Content entries found” problem.

  • Fix 2: Assign Proper Paragraph Levels to your document

Another possible cause of “No table of content entries found” is that you failed to assign proper paragraph levels to your document’s styles.

For instance, if you used Heading 2 styles throughout your document, and limit the paragraph levels to level 1, Word will search for only Heading 1 style to generate the Table of content. Meanwhile, there are only Heading 2 styles applied throughout the document.

If this happened, the TOC will say that No table of content entries found which may not be entirely true.

To avoid this problem, always set the level of your TOC according to the heading styles used. If you used up to Heading 3 or 4 style, then the paragraph level too should be set to level 3 or 4 respectively.

Table of Content showing {TOC\o “1-3”\h\z\u}

TOC field code ({TOC\o “1-3”\h\z\u} )

At times, you can generate your Table of Content only to see these weird characters ( {TOC\o “1-3”\h\z\u} ) instead of a list of paragraphs or headings.

Don’t worry too much about this. This is nothing really.

In MS Word, Table of Contents is a calculated field. These weird characters is a field code used by Microsoft Word to generate the Table of Contents.

You can easily toggle between this field code and the normal table of content you are familiar with.

Therefore, when you end up displaying the field code instead of the TOC list with page numbers, just click anywhere in those strange characters, and press Alt+F9 on your keyboard.

Conclusion

Inserting Automatic table of content isn’t a rocket science.

With just the right settings, you’ll be able to make a very beautiful ToC automatically.

And with these lessons on this guide, you can troubleshoot Most ToC errors.

For any question concerting this topic, please leave a comment.