Lining Up Dots in a Table of Contents

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To line up dots in a table of contents (TOC) in Word, you can format the document so that Word creates the TOC for you automatically, with your choice of dot styles, or you can produce the TOC manually.

The first approach, formatting the document to have Word automatically create the TOC, is ideal for long papers with multiple chapters or components. This involves dividing your chapters into segments, then inserting a table of contents in the front of your paper. ​​The process for generating this type of TOC can be easy if you set up the titles and headers in your document properly. 

However, most users won't need this type of process and are more inclined to create the TOC themselves, inserting the dots by hand using the tabs feature within Microsoft Word. 

Format Your Document for a TOC

Screen shot courtesy of Microsoft Corporation.

To type your own TOC, you must finish writing the final draft and thoroughly proofread your paper. You don't want to make any changes once you create a TOC, because any edits in the body of the paper afterward could make your table of contents inaccurate.

  • Go to the beginning of your paper and insert a blank page for the TOC, which should come after the title page.
  • Note: when you insert a new page for the TOC, it’s going to add a page to the overall document and throw off any existing pagination. Take this into account when numbering pages in the TOC. If you have used separate numbering for your cover page and TOC (such as Roman numerals) and used page one as the start of the text, then you should still be fine with the additional page and won't need to adjust.
  • Type in the name of your first chapter. Then space once and type the page number for that chapter. Don't type any dots!
  • Repeat this for each chapter. Just type the name, add one space, and then type the number.

Access Tab Alignment Settings

To create your tabs within the TOC, start by adding your text for each of the sections, and then format it. 

  • Start by selecting the first line of text.
  • Right click on the highlighted area and a menu list will pop up. 
  • Select "Paragraph" from the list.
  • A box will appear. Select the "Tabs" button at the bottom. See an image on the next page.

If you're not able to access the Paragraph and Tabs section by right-clicking, you can also access the Tab Alignment button by clicking on the L-shaped icon to the left of the top ruler. 

At this point, you should be looking at a box titled Tabs. 

Adjust the Tab Alignment Settings

Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft
Screen shot courtesy of Microsoft.

The Tabs box is where you will adjust your settings to indicate where the dots will start and end on each line. You may wish to adjust the spacing settings to best fit the spacing of your individual document.

  • In the box for "Tab stop position" type 5 as indicated by the blue arrow.
  • In the "Alignment" area, select right as indicated by the yellow arrow.
  • In the "Leader" area, select the choice for dots or lines, whichever you prefer. The pink arrow in the picture shows the selection for dots.
  • Select OK.
  • Place your cursor between a chapter name and the page number in your table of contents.
  • Press the "Tab" button, and the dots are auto-generated for you.
  • Repeat these steps for each chapter in your table of contents.

Should you find that your dots are not appearing, check to ensure that you have selected the Leader type and set the tab stop position correctly. Adjusting these settings may help. 

Check for Accuracy

Once you're done, take the time to check each line item to verify that your page numbers are correct. Remember, once you create your table of contents, any changes you make within the document could potentially alter your page numbers, and since you have manually created the list, you need to manually check your document for accuracy.