Creating a Table of Contents

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Getting Started

If you are required to include a table of contents in your research paper, you should know that there is a certain way to generate this feature in Microsoft Word. Many students try to create a table of contents manually, without using the built-in process.

This is a big mistake! It is nearly impossible to line up the dots evenly and keep the page numbers correct during editing.

Students will quickly give up on creating a manual table of contents out of frustration, because the spacing never comes out quite right, and the table is potentially incorrect as soon as you make any edits to your documents.

When you follow these steps, you will discover a simple process that takes a few moments, and it makes a world of difference in the look of your paper.

A table of contents is best used in a paper than can be divided into logical parts or chapters. You will find it necessary to create sections of your paper--either as you write or after you have completed the paper. Either way is fine.

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Using the Tool Bar

Microsoft product screen shot(s) reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Getting Started


  • First you'll need to make sure the necessary tool bar is showing at the top of your paper. The correct tool bar is the Formatting toolbar, and you can open this by selecting View and rolling your pointer down to Toolbar.

    You will need to select Formatting.

Your next step is to insert the phrases that you want to appear in your auto-generated table of contents. These are the words--in the form of headings--that the program pulls from your pages.

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Insert Headings

Microsoft product screen shot(s) reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Create Headings

To create a new chapter or division of your paper, you simply need to give a heading to the section. It can be as simple as one word, such as "Introduction." This is the phrase that will appear in your table of contents.

To insert a heading, go to the menu at the top left of your screen. From the drop down menu, select HEADING 1. Type the title or heading, and hit RETURN.

Remember, you don't have to format the paper as you write it. You can do this after your paper is completed. If you need to add headings and generate a table of contents after your paper is already written, you simply place your cursor in the desired spot and place your heading.

Note: if you want each section or chapter to start on a new page, go to the end of a chapter/section and go to Insert and select Break and Page Break.

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Inserting the Table of Contents

Microsoft product screen shot(s) reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

Create the Table of Contents

Once your paper is divided into sections, you are ready to generate the table of contents. You are almost finished!

First, create a blank page at the beginning of your paper. Do this by going to the very beginning and selecting Insert and select Break and Page Break.

From the tool bar, go to Insert, then select Reference and Index and Tables from the drop down lists.

A new window will pop up.

Select the Table of Contents tab and the select Okay.

You have a table of contents! Next, you may be interested in generating an index at the end of your paper.

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Your Citation
Fleming, Grace. "Creating a Table of Contents." ThoughtCo, Jan. 31, 2016, Fleming, Grace. (2016, January 31). Creating a Table of Contents. Retrieved from Fleming, Grace. "Creating a Table of Contents." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2018).