Tips for self-publishers: Table of Contents in Word

For anthologies and most non-fiction, a table of contents (TOC) is essential for readers to find their way around your paperback book. It’s also a way of showing off the contents of your book for potential browsers, and that includes the ‘Look Inside’ image of your Createspace book that Amazon will put onto your book’s page on Amazon.

Other than anthologies and compilations, most fiction does not benefit from a TOC.

For most purposes, Microsoft’s tool for generating tables of contents automatically does a good job and is probably more flexible than you realize. It’s what I used for the print edition of the book this post is extracted from.

The beauty of inserting an automatic table of contents (from the Ribbon, pick REFERENCES | Table of Contents) is that Word does all the hard work of finding all your headings, automatically adding them into your TOC, and correctly adding your page numbers. If your book changes, you can tell your TOC to update itself and all the page numbers and headings will recalculate themselves. You can update the TOC in several ways: the simplest is from the Ribbon, REFERENCES | Table of Contents | Update Table.

Microsoft’s online help for the topic of tables of contents is extensive. One of the best places to start is with Microsoft’s Word 2013 training videos on this subject. I’m not aware of any changes to tables of contents since Word 2007, so the 2013 video should apply at least as far back as 2007. These training courses use Microsoft Powerpoint .pptx format. If you can’t read that straight away, you can download a free viewer from Microsoft or try running it using Quicktime.

The course I have in mind is called “Advanced tables of contents”. You can Google for it, or go to

The key to Microsoft’s automatic TOC is your use of styles. By default, Word will look through your text and pick out your heading styles (for example, ‘heading1’, ‘heading2’) and use those as TOC entries.

Once you’ve created a TOC, you will be able to modify TOC styles in the Styles Pane. The first level TOC entries are styled by the TOC1 style. The next level by a style called TOC2, and so on.

The heading of the TOC has its own style called TOC Heading.


Using styles to drive the automatic table of contents

Look up similar books to yours in the library or your bookshelf to get ideas on styling to aim for. Also, make good use of the Look Inside feature on Amazon to see how others do it, though make sure you are looking at the print edition.

As well as the automatic table of contents, Word allows a Custom TOC from the same part of the Ribbon. This allows you to fine-tune the design, and to fill the TOC using other styles than heading styles.

There’s plenty of further guidance on this topic online. If you need such sophistication as multiple TOCs, sub-headings and summaries, then Word can do this if you learn a few field codes.

Alternatively, if you need flexibility, it could be easiest to abandon Microsoft’s TOC generator altogether and write and style the TOC yourself, something I’ve done myself for several poetry and short story anthologies.

I’ve reproduced below a table of contents I made for Dead to Rights: A Circularity of Glosas, a poetry anthology by Alain C. Dexter. Typing in the entries and styling the TOC yourself is easy, but to type in the page numbers by hand is dangerous. It would be so easy to get them wrong, especially if the correct page numbers change after editing.

The trick is to use cross-references, which you can access from the Ribbon under REFERENCES | Captions | Cross-reference. For our purposes, we want reference type: Heading and insert reference to: Page number, as with the screenshot below.

Using cross-references to reference page numbers

When you hit the Inset button, the correct page number appears in the TOC. If the page number changes at a later date, the cross-reference doesn’t change automatically to match (which is the same as Word’s automatic TOC.) To make sure all the page numbers are accurate, do this:

Save your document

Select the entire contents of your document (CTRL+A if you’re running Windows, + A if on a Mac)

Update field codes (F9 – if you’re running a Mac and that doesn’t update field codes, you must first turn off the Exposé keyboard shortcut for this key. On the Apple menu, click System Preferences. Under Personal, click Exposé & Spaces)

If you were reading the paperback edition of the book this post was taken from, you would see entries inside the text such as

For more information on cross-references, see [p218 of Format Your Print Book for Createspace: 2nd Edition].

Those page numbers are cross-references and use the technique I’ve just explained. Where I want to refer to a specific page where there isn’t a heading, I insert a bookmark (Ribbon: INSERT | Links | Bookmark) and then in the cross-reference dialog I pick Bookmark as the reference type.

If you’re writing non-fiction then cross-references can be a powerful tool. If you’ve not used them before, open up a new document in Word and start playing with them. I’ve just run through a whole lot of dialogs and key presses, which might leave you feeling a little dizzy. Once you’ve used them a few times, though, you’ll find them easy, I promise! So go off and try these techniques for yourself.

A final word about your TOC. Word TOCs use tabs and page numbers. Neither have any place in eBooks. Never allow an automatic tool to convert your paperback table of contents directly into your eBook as it will look awful.

Microsoft Word’s table of contents customization allows you to set table of contents entries as hyperlinks. Depending on how you create your eBook, this might be all you need to set the hyperlinks that your eBook TOC must have in place of page numbers.

Follow this link to my other writing and publishing tips

This article was adapted from ‘Format Your Print Book for Createspace: 2nd Edition‘ available now as a Kindle eBook, and as a 296 page paperback:

eBook: $2.99 at | £2.00 at

Paperback  $10.80 at | £8.50 at


About Tim C. Taylor

Tim C. Taylor writes science fiction and is the author of 21 published novels as of August 2021. His latest book is 'Hold the Line', published by Theogony Books. Find out more at
This entry was posted in Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tips for self-publishers: Table of Contents in Word

  1. timctaylor says:

    I’m delighted you found it helpful. Thanks for letting me know 🙂

  2. Rajeev Roy says:

    Thanks a lot, Tim. This was very helpful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s