My short cuts – how to create a contents page in Word

21 Mar

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents.

Today we’re going to look at how to create a contents page or contents list in Word. I am breaking this series up into small pieces, so we have already learned about setting up headings and then numbering them.

You will use this to save yourself time and ensure consistency when you’re setting up a large document and you want it to have a contents page. You can do it manually, but it is FAR easier to do it this way.

First, have a look at the two headings articles to make sure you understand how to assign headings and how to number them (if you want to).

Now, for the purposes of making a more interesting contents page, I’ve popped each heading onto a separate page (and we all know how to do that, don’t we!)

So the text is all set up, with headings that are also numbered, and each heading is on a separate page. Now we’re going to put our cursor at the beginning of the document, and make sure we’re in the References tab.

You can see the Table of Contents button highlighted – click on that and have a look at the box that comes up:

Here we have lots of different styles of contents page to choose between. Either double click on the one you want – I clicked on the first one – or click once to highlight it and then Insert Table of Contents. And look what appears! Magic!

You can see lots of lovely headings and their numbers, all laid out nice and clearly (imagine if this was a PhD or another long document with lots of sub-headings.

But what happens if we need to change something in the text? Look – there’s a problem with the document here …

I can see that I should have typed “How Much it Costs” for section 3, and it’s on page 8 along with Section 2, when it should be on page 9. Oh no!

So let’s go to page 8, move the heading onto page 9 and amend the heading itself:

Great – so now the text is sorted out and the heading is on page 9, where it should be. How do we update the Table of Contents to reflect this change?

Go back to the Table of Contents and highlight it (it all comes up in blue if you click on one bit of it). Left click and you should find it puts everything in grey and gives you a little tab at the top like this.

You can use this to change all sorts of attributes on the contents page, or you can just click on Update Field from here or left click when you have the contents list in blue in the last step, and you get this choice:

I always choose Update entire table, just in case. And with one click, it’s updated the Contents list to match the document.

So, no more fiddling around doing a contents page by hand. As long as you set up your headers, you can insert and update your Contents page however you want and whenever you want – so much easier!

This is why, if you use my proofreading services, I will put a note on your contents page reminding you to update it at the last minute, to take into account any changes we might have made to your pagination or heading numberings. Update the Contents page at the very last stage, and it’ll be completely accurate and up to date.

If you have enjoyed this post and found it useful, please click on the “share” buttons below or tell your friends and colleagues about it! Thank you!

Please note, these hints work with versions of Microsoft Word currently in use – Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word 2010, all for PC. Mac compatible versions of Word should have similar options. Always save a copy of your document before manipulating it. I bear no responsibility for any pickles you might get yourself into!

Find all the short cuts here


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20 responses to “My short cuts – how to create a contents page in Word

  1. David

    March 25, 2013 at 3:40 am

    this was very helpful. thank you very much.


    • Liz at Libro

      March 25, 2013 at 6:20 am

      You’re welcome – thanks for taking the time to add a comment!


  2. Tonda

    January 13, 2014 at 2:53 am

    How to click on the contents item and get to the page?


    • Liz at Libro

      January 13, 2014 at 10:16 am

      You should be able to click on each item in the contents page and move to the correct page (but make sure that you’re not in Edit mode first, i.e. the contents page looks normal, like the rest of the document, and is not all highlighted in grey with a box around it. If that doesn’t work, hold down the control key and click on the appropriate line.
      If that still doesn’t work, post here again with the problem and I will try to help.


      • Tonda

        January 15, 2014 at 4:16 pm

        Yes, it worked like a charm. Thank you.


  3. Phil

    May 22, 2014 at 11:33 am

    The table of contents only seems to show the titles of sections using the first three headings (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3), so only shows 1, 1.1 and 1.1.1. But not and higher.

    Is there something I need to tick to make it update to show all the other headings as well? I have used many of the 9 default headings extensively and have many subsections I want to be included! My appendix is set to Heading 8 so that isn;t even showing up.


    • Liz at Libro

      May 22, 2014 at 11:38 am

      You can customise your table of contents to show however many headings you want to. You need to start a new TOC. Choose Insert Table of Contents, then a window will come up with tabs, with TOC showing. In the General section on the bottom left, you will find Show Levels. Change that to whatever level you want to show, and the TOC will show all heading levels. I hope that helps!


      • phildusart

        May 22, 2014 at 12:33 pm

        Wow, fast reply, thanks a lot! That seemed to work great.


        • Liz at Libro

          May 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm

          I do my best – I do try to respond to commenters as I appreciate people reaching out to ask me questions! Glad I could help – I will do a post on customising Contents soon!


  4. shabbir ali

    May 4, 2016 at 7:41 am

    Its good but i could not find a good and easy method for replace the table of contents after update entire table. pls tell me clearly one thing i want any changes in report table no like Table: 1.2 after that we go on top in table of contents and use update entire table but don’t comes Table: 1.2 in table of contents. pls send me easy method, my email ID Thank you



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