How to Create a Contents Page

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Organizing long documents and reports with a table of contents is a must in desktop publishing. Today's word-processing programs, such as Microsoft Word 2007, make it very easy to automatically create a table of contents. Most open-source word-processing programs use the same or similar approaches and screens.

Things You'll Need

  • Word-processing program with table of contents feature
  • Document using heading styles

Creating a Table of Contents in a Word Processing Program

  • Preparation is three-quarters of the effort to creating an effective table of contents. The document needs styles to identify the different levels for headings. Many of today's word-processing programs include preset headings. Whether outline numbers are used is a personal choice. The key is consistency. Select the font face, weight, size, color and style for each heading, and ensure these are used consistently throughout the document.

  • Formatting the document can be done on the fly or at the conclusion of drafting. Whichever method is used, consistently apply the appropriate style to the heading level. Setting up the outline format allows styles to be tied to specific outline levels. This "fixes" the outline level to the table of contents. More headings can be assigned than will be used as long as all are used consistently. Normally, table of contents are three levels or less for a document.

  • Place the table of contents at the front of the document, and create a hard page break so that the text starts on the page following the table of contents. Most hard copy books with table of contents use page numbers "a," "b" and so on for the Contents. The page break between the two needs to be a section break to allow the page numbers and styles to change.

  • Review the document, ensuring that all of the headings to be in the table of contents are in the correct heading format. Taking the few minutes to do this once again is well worth the effort for a simple conversion creating the table of contents.

  • Move the cursor to the top of the page on which the table of contents will start. The word-processing program will add necessary pages if the contents are more than one page long. Then select the style of table desired.

  • Selecting the style automatically generates the table of contents. To change the style of the table, changes are made to the TOC styles, not the table itself. If the formatting is changed on the table, the next time it is generated, it will revert to the TOC styles.

Tips & Warnings

  • Avoid using line breaks in headings. Keep headings short to ensure the table of contents listing is on one line. Plan how many levels will be shown in the table of contents. Keep the displayed levels to three or fewer; preferably just two levels
  • A heading created by formatting and not by a style will not be picked up in the automatic generation. Long headings may result in multi-line listings in the table of contents.

References

  • Photo Credit All screen clips by the author
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