How to create automatic tables of content in Word 2010

Posted: 2nd Aug 2011

I have spent far too many hours manually creating content tables, matching the section numbers, titles and pages against those in the main document. However, I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort if I had used Word's inbuilt features to do this automatically. The majority of the student essays that I proofread still use manual content tables, so this blog post is designed to guide you through the easy process of letting Word do the hard work for you.

Step 1: Define your header styles

In Word 2010, go to the Home tab. You will see a box with several different font styles.

[Styles box]

Scroll up or down within this box using the arrows on the right until you can see Heading 1. Right-click on this and press Modify. Now select what you would like your sub-heading to look like. Once you are happy, press OK.

Now, for the second level of sub-heading (a 'sub-sub-heading'), do the same for Heading 2. You can repeat this for Heading 3, 4, 5, etc. for different levels of sub-headings. If you want to use a style that isn't there (e.g. in the example above, we can't see Heading 3), click this button next to Change Styles:

[Drop button]

Now click Manage Styles:

[Manage styles button]

Go to the Recommend tab. You should see a list of different styles. Click on the one you want to use and then press the Show button. Repeat this for as many different styles as you want to use in the document. Press OK - the styles should now appear in your Style bar.

Step 2: Use your headers

Go to your first sub-section. Highlight the sub-section title then click Heading 1 in the Style bar. The text should change to match the formatting that you chose for Heading 1. Repeat this throughout the document for all headings and all levels of formatting, e.g.:


In your actual document, these will likely be split over different pages.

Step 3: Create the table of contents

Go to the place in your document where you want the table of contents to appear. In Word 2010, go to the References tab. On the left-hand side should be a button called Table of Contents:

[Table of contents button]

Click on this and a menu of different table styles should pop up. Choose the one you like. You should now see a contents table populated with all the headers you have created. If any are missing, go back to the section heading and check it has the right style applied.

Step 4: Update the table of contents

As you edit and work on your document, you will likely make changes that cause the page numbers to change. In this case, you will need to update the table of contents. Hover your cursor over the top of the table of contents until you see Update Table with a paper and exclamation mark icon. Click this button and two choices will appear:

[Update TOC context menu]

Choose 'Update page numbers only' if you have not made any changes to the headings you have applied. Choose 'Update entire table' if you have created new sub-headings, removed sub-heading, changed the sub-heading levels, etc. In either option, your table should update automatically with the new information.

You should now have an automatic table of contents. If this still seems like too much work, please get in touch and get a no-obligation quote for our content table services.


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