Lining Up Dots in a Table of Contents

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There are two ways to make a uniform table of contents (TOC) in Microsoft Word. Each method involves a few steps that can be challenging for the occasional user to figure out alone. These tips can make your paper-writing process easier, though, and help you insert dots in your table of contents created in a Word document. 

The more advanced way of creating a table of contents should be used for very long papers with multiple chapters or components. This involves first dividing your chapters into segments, then inserting a table of contents in the front of your paper. Every "divided" segment appears in an auto-generated TOC like magic, thanks to the use of various settings. It won't be necessary to type in the titles; they are pulled from your paper automatically. ​Generating a table of contents like this can be easy if you set up the titles and headers in your document in a very specific manner. 

However, most users won't need this type of process and are more inclined to create the table of contents themselves, without relying on paragraph styles to indicate different sections. Follow these steps to insert dots into your table of contents by hand using the tabs feature within Microsoft Word. 

Table of Contents in Microsoft Word

Screen shot courtesy of Microsoft Corporation.

To type your own TOC, you must finish writing the final draft (see the article on proofreading) of your paper. You don't want to make any changes once you create a table of contents, 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.
  • 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.

Accessing Tab Alignment Settings

  • Highlight the first line of text.
  • Right click on the highlighted area and a menu list will pop up. 
  • Select "Paragraph" from the list that pops up.
  • 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. 

Inserting Dots That Line Up in Your Table of Contents

Screenshot courtesy of Microsoft
Screen shot courtesy of Microsoft.
  • 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.

You have just set up the page so that pressing the tab on your computer will insert a segment of uniform dots. 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.


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.