How To Insert an Automated Table of Contents in Word Document

Whenever you create a document that is several pages, chapters, sections long, it is required to insert the table of contents in the very first page. The table of content is the map to the entire document. Everyone is busy and in order to spend their time reading your document, the reader or your target audience need to find out what’s in the document first before they read through the pages. Other readers may not be interested in the whole document but certain sections or parts of the document.

So, it’s good practice to have a table of content in the very first page of your document. Although most people including students, spend a good amount of time compiling the table of contents after they have completed the document. Others, try to create a separate table of contents page, print it out and attach with the document print. The problem with method is that, every time you format your document and a main headings or a sub headings changes from one page to another because of the changes, the table of content page number need to be updated again.

Another problem is the tedious task of making the main headings and sub headings the same font, font size and to make it consistency. This can be done using the Format Painter command under Home==>Clipboard group of commands. However, if the document is long, this task can take a fair amount of time.


While, Microsoft Office Word 2016 has made it relatively easy to generate your table of contents at ease with just as few clicks and update as necessary. So, here is how it is done.

Document Design Themes

To create as professional looking document in word, the first step is to create set a Document Design theme.

Click Design ==> Themes down arrow key. Select the design you prefer.













Figure 1 Design Themes

Next you need to change the Theme’s default font, font size for your main headings and subheadings. Click on Home==>Styles command, click on the more button and Styles dialog box will show. From it, click the down arrow on Normal and click on Modify. From Modify styles dialog box, you can now set the Font, font size, and font color of your choice. Do the same for Heading1, Heading 2, Heading 3 styles. It is good to make use the same font for Normal, and headings. For heading, the sub heading should be one point lower than then the previous heading. Example, if Heading 1 font size is 16 than Heading style can be 14 and heading 3 set to 12.











Figure 2-Setting Font Styles

Write Your Document Outline

Second step is to set your document outline. This is the important part; in which you outline your document according to the plan. For example, if the document is a Guidelines Document to assist the student prepare to come for first year studies in a university, the outline would be like follows

  • Things to Prepare before You Leave Your Family
  • When You Arrive at Port Moresby Jacksons Airport
    • Arrival at Domestic Terminal
    • Arrival at International Terminal
  • School Pick Up Area at the Terminal Car Parks
  • Arrival at Campus
    • Room Allocation
    • Access to Mess
    • Important Public Utilities
      • Bank ATM Machines
      • School Clinic
      • Free Wifi Internet Access Areas
    • Key Person Contact Details
      • Student Administration
      • School  Security
      • Students Wardens

Copy your document outline. Go to View==>Outline and in the outline view, paste your outline as shown in Figure 3














Figure 3-Word Outline View

Make sure you set the Heading Levels correct. Level 1 (Main Heading), Level 2 (Sub-heading), Level 3 (Sub-bub heading). Body Text means the text is not. See Figure 4 below.













Figure 4-Heading Levels

Us the Up and Down commands under Outline group of commands to re-arrange the headings. Use the Demote & Promote command buttons to promote heading to a higher level or demote to bring it down to subheading or lower level. Once the outline is set, close the Outline View and you are ready to write up your document. You can always go back and specify a heading text if you have not added in the initial outline structure. Once Word is aware of the headings and subheadings, you can then insert an auto generated Table of Contents.

Insert The Table of Content

Once your document is completed, you are now ready to insert the automated table of contents.

Put the cursor in the first line of your document. Where you insert the table of contents very much depends on the type of document you are writing. If your document requires you to put the table of content in page 2, that’s ok too.

Click References ==>Table of Contents. Select ==>Automatic Table 1, or Automatic Table 2. Table of content is added in your document.















Figure 5-Table of Content Options

Insert A Page Break

Once the Table of content is added, the next thing is to head a page break at the end of the table of content. The reason for this is that Table of content must appear on a page of its own and also if  it takes several pages, the page break will force the other text to appear on the next page.

  1. Put the cursor at the line right after the end of the Table of Contents.
  2. Click Insert==>Page break. The page break will be inserted and force the other text to the next page. Page break is invisible, if you want to see the Page Break line, go to Home==>Show/Hide toggle button under paragraphs command groups.









Figure 6-Insert Page Break

Update the Table of Contents

Once you have completed your document and you are satisfied, the final step is to update the table of content.

Go the Table of Content and click on it. The table of content will be highlighted and update command is shown at the top. Click the Update Table button. From the Update table of content dialog box, click on Update Entire table and click OK. Word will automatically update the table of contents for you.














Figure 7-Table of Content update command

That’s how easy it is to automate a table of content in Word 2016.