Create an automatic table of contents

How do I create a table of contents?

To create a table of contents in the word processing program that automatically updates – e.g. When new chapters are added, page numbers or chapter headings change – the headings in the text must first be formatted. This applies regardless of whether you work with the version Word 2007, Word 2010 or Word 2013.

It is advisable to create the table of contents as early as possible in the work process, as it also helps the author to keep track and quickly jump back and forth between chapters.

If headline styles are not used in a document, Word’s automatic dictionary feature can not fill the table of contents with the bullet points and their headings. If you try it anyway, you will get the error message “No entries were found for the table of contents.”

So at the beginning, it’s easiest to apply the headline styles to the respective headings. This can be done as follows.

Format the headings

Click Start and hover over the different headings in the Styles Gallery. If you linger longer on a format, the text changes so you can see what your document will look like. Just click on the format you want.

If the style you want is not displayed, click the More button or the Styles panel to expand the catalog and get more choices.

Most texts have headings up to the 3rd or 4th level, depending on the detail of the outline. Accordingly, the headings may e.g. be provided with the heading “Heading 2” “Heading 3” or “Heading 4”.

If the appropriate styles have been assigned to all headings, an automated table of contents can be inserted.

Insert the table of contents

To do this just go to the Start menu on “Paste” and select “Index and directories”, then click “Table of Contents” and the directory is created.

It is also possible in advance to choose between different predefined templates such as “classic” or “traditional”. However, the templates offered by Word do not suit everyone’s taste. Therefore, changing the basic formatting settings is quite simple. Open the “Table of Contents” dialog by first clicking on the “Table of Contents” menu item and then “Custom Table of Contents”.


The further update of the table of contents is done by a click with the right mouse button (of course the cursor has to be in the directory). You can choose between a page number update and an update of the entire directory.

Sources of error usually arise from the fact that the headline styles were not consistently applied. Was e.g. a headline is not marked with the corresponding template, then of course it does not appear in the directory. If more than just the headline, e.g. also the line before or after, with which style was marked, then this is likewise to be seen in the table of contents.

Thus, the manual creation of directories and especially their tedious and error-prone customization should be a thing of the past.

This article will help you with any problems when it comes to the creation and insertion of automatic directories (see also our article “Insert mapping directories”).

For us as ghostwriters and editors not only the creation of scientific texts, but also their formatting is a daily craft. After all, the external form of a text is also a sign of professionalism.

We support you gladly, ask us!