This article is all about what happens when a document that includes a Table of Contents (and a Table of Figures and/or a Table of Tables) is edited. There are a couple of pitfalls which I have encountered as an editor, and I wanted to share them with fellow editors AND writers, to help other people avoid them.
Scroll down to the bottom for a summary of advice to editors and writers if you’re not worried about the detail.
Please note that there are more detailed instruction on updating a Table of Contents in this article.
What’s the problem with Tables of Contents and the editing process?
If a document with an automated Table of Contents is being edited, the editor has two choices (and the writer will find that their editor has done one of two things):
- Mark any changes to headings in both the Table of Contents and the actual heading in the main text
- Mark any changes to headings in just the actual heading in the main text, then someone updates the Table of Contents
Let’s look at the risks with these in turn.
1. Mark any changes to headings in both the Table of Contents and the actual heading in the main text
Issue 1 – Awkwardness for the editor. To do this, you will have to have a split screen with the contents page in the top half and the text in the bottom, or you’ll have to whizz up and down the document and make sure you make the same correction in both places.
Issue 2 – Keeping things consistent. a) The editor will have to make the same change in both places, and b) the writer will have to make the same choice to reject or accept the change in both places.
As an editor, if I do this, I place a comment linked to the words “Table of Contents” reminding the author to make the same choices here and in the main text.
If the Table of Contents is not automated, I a) suggest that the author creates one (or has me create it, if appropriate) and b) I place the comment above by the words “Table of Contents” to remind the author to keep it consistent.
2. Mark any changes to headings in just the actual heading in the main text, then someone updates the Table of Contents
If the Table of Contents is automated, this is what I tend to do.
There are two options here:
Option 1 – The writer wants a “clean copy” not one with tracked changes marked: the editor can update the Table of Contents once they’ve done their edit and accepted all changes. Everything will now match.
Option 2 -The writer wants (or needs, in the case of students) to see the tracked changes and make their own decisions on what to accept and reject. In this case, the writer will need to update the Table of Contents once they’ve gone through the changes.
Option 2 is the most common in my experience.
If the writer needs to update the Table of Contents themeselves, I always add a comment to the words “Table of Contents”:
“Please remember to update this Table of Contents after you have accepted or rejected all of my changes, to make sure that the table reflects the document accurately. Please choose Update entire table rather than Update page numbers only”.
An important choice – what to update in the Table of Contents
This information is for editors and writers.
Whether the editor or writer is updating the Table of Contents, once you’ve clicked on Update Field, you are given the choice of Update page numbers only or Update entire table:
It is vitally IMPORTANT that you choose “Update entire table”. This will update any changes to the headings and any changes to the page numbers. If you click on “Update page numbers only”, and any headings have been changed in the text, this will NOT be reflected in the Table of Contents.
For authors: updating your Table of Contents when your work has been edited
- Always update your Table of Contents when your work comes back from your editor, unless they have told you that they’ve already done it
- Always choose “Update entire table” to make sure that everything in the Table of Contents matches your actual document
For editors: updating or instructing on editing the Table of Contents
- Always leave a note for the writer explaining what you’ve done or what you need them to do
- If you are updating the Table of Contents yourself, always choose “Update entire table” to make sure that everything in the Table of Contents matches the actual document (I would still leave a reminder for the writer to do the same after they’ve made any final changes)
- If you need the writer to update the Table of Contents once they have dealt with your suggestions, leave a note explaining that, and make it clear that they must “Update entire table” when doing so
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