A manuscript I found in an archive. Imagine how long the Table of Contents would be!

One year ago, if someone had told me there was a way to automatically generate a Table of Contents using Microsoft Word, I wouldn’t have believed them.

Then one day last fall, the clouds parted and I discovered there was a way. And it was about to make writing my dissertation a lot easier.

Knowing how to generate a Table of Contents in Word should be one of those essential things, like knowing how to ride a bike or tying your shoelaces. It’s that important, and it’s really quite easy.

Got five minutes? Here’s how to do a quick and easy ToC using Word 2010.

1) Select the document you want to generate a ToC for. Here is the sample document I will be using. As you can see, I clearly have coffee on the brain.

Document without styles

2) Use Microsoft Word Styles to add Headings to your document. One of the keys to making a Table of Contents is using Microsoft Word Styles in your document. You can find the Styles option on the right side of the regular Word toolbar. The default setting for Styles in Word 2010 is Normal, but you can use other headings, such as Heading 1 or Heading 2 to label the titles and sub-titles in your document. All you need to do is select your text, and then click the style you want to use.

Document with styles

3) Create the Table of Contents. Once your styles are in place, point your mouse to the place on-screen where you wish to insert the Table of Contents. Click the References tab at the top of the screen, and the Table of Contents button will appear at the far left of the screen. When you click the Table of Contents button, a drop-down menu will appear. Now click the ToC style which you prefer for your document.

Document Table of Contents

4) Edit and update the Table of Contents. Now that you have generated your ToC, you can clearly see the levels of headings and sub-headings in your document. For example, since I selected Heading 1 for Why Coffee is Amazing, it appears flush with the left margin of the ToC. The two headings which I styled with Heading 2 are indented in the ToC because they are sub-headings. You can play around with the hierarchy of headings using styles in your document. Just be sure to update your ToC once you make any changes.

To update the table, select the ToC, then click Update Table. With this feature, you can choose to either update the entire table at once, or just the page numbers. The choice is up to you!

Update Table

There– you’re done!

Generating a Table of Contents is as easy as 1-2-3, provided you have a working copy of Microsoft Word and a document to try it on. A ToC is perfect for organizing a dissertation, a research paper, or for tricking your friends into thinking you’re a published author since your document is so professional-looking. Hey, a girl can dream, right?