Word 2003: Create an automatic Table of Contents

November 10, 2008

It is very easy to set up an automatic Table of Contents (TOC) in Word 2003 so that you don’t have to manually type in headings and page numbers, and so that you don’t have to go back and change them every time you update the document. (Instructions for Word 2007)

The only ‘rule’ is that you must use styles for your headings.

You can either use Word’s built-in Heading styles or create your own. To get a hierarchical TOC, make sure you also use hierarchical heading styles for each topic’s main heading, subheading, and sub-subheadings (e.g. Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3).

Set up your document using hierarchical heading styles for your headings and sub-headings. For this exercise, use Word’s default Heading 1, 2, and 3 styles. Leave some space at the beginning of the document—this is where you’ll insert your auto TOC.

  1. When you are ready to test the auto TOC, click in the empty space at the beginning of the document.
  2. From Word 2003’s menu, select Insert > Reference > Index and Tables.
  3. Select the Table of Contents tab.
  4. If you don’t want your TOC as blue hyperlinks, clear the Use hyperlinks instead of page numbers check box.
  5. Click OK—your auto TOC is inserted at the beginning of your document.

If you don’t like the fonts used, or how the heading levels are indented, or want to exclude a heading style from being reported in the TOC, you’ll need to modify the styles:

  1. Click anywhere in the TOC, then select Insert > Reference > Index and Tables again.
  2. Select the Table of Contents tab if it’s not already the active tab.
  3. Click the Options button to specify the styles to use to create the auto TOC, and the hierarchical level appearance they will take (this is very useful if you want to include an extra style in the TOC, such as an Appendix style at level 1). Delete a number from a box to not display that style in the TOC. When finished, click OK.
  4. Click the Modify button to change the ‘look and feel’ of the TOC. Select the TOC style, then click Modify to change its font etc. Repeat for all other TOC levels. When you have finished changing the appearance of each TOC level, click OK.
  5. You will be asked if you want to replace the existing TOC—click OK to do so.

After you add more content to the document, or need to update the page numbers in the TOC, you’ll need to update it. The quickest way is to click anywhere in the TOC then press F9. You will be asked if you want to update just the page numbers or the entire table. The safest option is Entire Table—this updates the page numbers and adds or removes headings to reflect the current headings used.

Word’s Table of Contents dialog box

See also:

[This article was first published in the December 2003 CyberText Newsletter; links last checked July 2010]


  1. […] You can automate this process—and produce automated Tables of Figures as well, just like an automated Table of Contents. […]

  2. […] Word 2003: Create an automatic Table of Contents (8,067) […]

  3. I still cant get this to work properly despite following the online instructions. It inserts the first line for a table of contents but I am unable to type in subsequent headings as it does not follow the same format (I need automatic page numbering). So I have a ‘TOC’ consisting of 1 heading only! Obviously I’ve done something wrong but cant figure out what?

    Any suggestions?

  4. Hi Sally

    I can think of two possibilities:

    1. Is the one line for the TOC some sort of weird code, like { TOC \O “1-3” \U }? If so, then you have field codes turned on. Right-click in that line and select Toggle Field Codes to get the TOC back.

    2. I’m concerned about the ‘unable to type subsequent headings as it does not follow the same format’ part of your question as I’m not sure what you mean. With an auto TOC, you don’t type *anything* in the TOC — by using heading styles in your document, the TOC is created by picking up the text and page numbers where those headings occur. So, you write your document as usual, using Heading 1, 2, 3 styles for your headings (this is critical). When you’ve finished writing your document, go back to the beginning, add a few extra lines where you want the TOC to go, then follow the first set of numbered instructions above.

    Hope this helps


  5. Thanks Rhonda for taking the time to respond…I think I now know where I went wrong.

    Concensus at work though seems to be this function is more hassle than its worth and not ‘user friendly’ so may abandon plan to use TOC anyway!

  6. […] Word 2003: Create an automatic Table of Contents […]

  7. Hi Rhonda,

    Thank you for offering help with the TOC.

    I have created a TOC almost successfully for an Arabic

    Three things have gone wrong:

    1- The first line of the TOC is 1………………………………….. (With no Arabic)

    2- an illustration has been inserted unter the first line. Which should not be there.

    3- The text is on left of the TOC pages and the digits are on the right. It should be the other way round.


    You deserve more than a coffee.

    Kind regards,


  8. Thanks Sami. In response to your questions:

    1. I suspect you have an empty paragraph near the beginning of your document that’s styled with a Heading style. Try viewing the styles and seeing what style is applied to each paragraph: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/word-display-styles-for-each-paragraph/ When you find the one that’s incorrect, change it back to whatever your default paragraph style is (typically Normal or Body Text).

    2. Again, it looks like a Caption style has been applied to an image. Change it back to Normal or Body Text or whatever your default paragraph style is. See this blog post: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/pictures-in-a-word-table-of-contents/

    3. I don’t know how to do that one! But some thoughts… Are you using an Arabic/right-to-left keyboard? Is your computer’s language/regional settings set for a right-to-left language? Is your Word language set for a right-to-left language?


  9. How do you insert a table of contents a few pages into your document?(I have pages i, ii, iii, iv, and v before my TOC starts on page 1)

  10. Just put the cursor after the front matter and before Page 1 — and insert the TOC there.


  11. Dear Rhonda,

    How do I correct the table of contents when all the text is included after I select “update entire table”? Also, I noticed when my professor returned my original document with comments, my table of contents would no longer update correctly. Any thoughts?

    Thank you,

  12. If text (or a picture) is included in your TOC, the paragraph containing that text is most likely styled with one of the Heading styles.

    You need to go to that paragraph in the body of the document and set it to a body text style, not a heading style. See instructions here for a picture in the TOC: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/pictures-in-a-word-table-of-contents/ (same deal for text!)


  13. As for your TOC not updating correctly after someone else has worked in the doc, I’m not sure. You could spend hours trying to figure it out (especially if Track Changes was on or your professor manually changed anything in the TOC). However, there’s no point in spending hours figuring it out — just reinsert the TOC and you should be good to go.


  14. this has been the best help i’ve got today

  15. My TOC won’t pick up the automatic paragraph numbering. Why?

  16. If your heading styles are associated with outline numbering levels, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be showing in the TOC. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘paragraph numbering’ in this context.


  17. I have already typed a table of contents for my finished book. I am wondering if it is possible to create an active table of contents that means someone reading the book on kindle can click on chapter 1 and it takes them right there, chapter 2 brings them to chapter 2. Is this possible?

  18. Hi Rebecca

    Quick answer, yes, if it’s an online book.

    Longer answer — how you do this depends on how you are delivering the book.

    If the book is already published as a PDF, then you can insert linked bookmarks into the PDF that take the reader from the TOC to the starting page of the chapter.

    If the book is in Word, then use the method I’ve shown to replace the existing manual TOC with an automated one. If you then generate a PDF from the Word document, the existing links should be preserved (depending on the PDF tool you use — some of the cheap ones won’t preserve the links).

    If your book is in HTML, which I think is the underlying format for most ebooks (such as those for the Kindle), then you would just create hyperlinks for each chapter listed in the TOC. If your chapters were separate HTML pages, these would be standard hyperlinks; if the chapters are part of one long HTML page for the entire book, then you’d create ‘name’ links.


  19. HI-When I tried to make a TOC using the steps outlined here, I get an error message that reads ‘Error! No table of contents entries found’. Not too sure what I could be doing wrong. I am not too technologically advanced when it comes to doing this type of stuff on the computer; I like the basics, but nothing that is too technical for me. Please help.

  20. Hi Christine

    I suspect you aren’t using Heading 1, 2, 3 levels in your document, or that those options have been deselected somehow. In the second set of steps above, take a look at step 3 — click the Options button and make sure that there’s a ‘1’ next to Heading 1, a ‘2’ next to Heading 2, and a ‘3’ next to Heading 3. If there’s not, enter those numbers and try again.

    If you’re still having trouble, send me a private email (see the About page).


  21. Hi Rhonda-

    I tried what you suggested and it still is not working. I am not too sure what I am doing wrong. Those options are there; but for some reason it isn’t working right for me. Am I supposed to select ‘chapter 1’ in my document to get the TOC to work? Please help. Thanks!!

  22. Hi Chrissy

    Based on the document you sent me, it’s clear why the TOC won’t generate — you haven’t used any styles for formatting your document, so you only have ‘Normal’ everywhere, with no heading styles used at all (see the second paragraph of this blog post).


  23. Hi Rhonda. I was given the task of cleaning up a 70 page procedures manual, and one of the items on the list was to create a TOC. At the beginning of each section, I have “Process: ” followed by text. The Text is what I want in the TOC. When I hi-light just the text portion and select “Heading 1”, a couple of things happen:

    1) It formats the text differently from what I want (TNR, 12 pt). I tried editing the style, but it still doesn’t format it correctly. Sometimes when I select Heading 1, it makes the font Calibri. Sometimes something totally different. It’s never consistant.

    2) After updating my text as heading 1 and then selecting “Update entire table” in the TOC, my headers are not there. Only the 1st one shows up. And not just the text that I wanted, but also the “Process: ” part. I’ve ever tried making other text heading 2, but it still doesn’t show up. I’m starting to think it’s corrupt or something. Please help!

  24. Hi Sara

    Well, the doc may be corrupt, but before jumping to that conclusion, there are couple of other things that might be going wrong. For example, the person who created the doc may have used text boxes to control the placement of text. I *think* that anything inside a text box won’t report in a TOC.

    The first steps I’d try in attempting to solve the problem is to see what’s going on in the document. I’d do this by:

    Then I’d click inside the word ‘Process’ and see what style was applied to it. Repeat for the text after the word ‘Process’. You may see something that’s not quite right, such as a style that looks like ‘Heading 1’ but may be something like ‘Heading1’ (no space). I’d also check that the outline level for the Heading 1 style was set to Level 1 (on the Paragraph dialog box when you modify the style’s settings).

    Next I’d check the settings for the TOC and see if ‘Heading 1’ is set to be reported in the TOC (see the ‘Insert your own TOC section in this post: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/word-2007-create-an-automatic-table-of-contents/).


    Click inside the

  25. Hi Rhonda. Thanks for the quick response! I actually got it to work late yesterday by switching it to “Draft” view and displaying the styles on the LHS. What’s weird is, even though I had changed all of my topics to heading 1 while in “Print Layout” view, they were still listed as “Normal” once I switched to “Draft” view. Once I selected Heading 1 while in “Draft” view, it finally stuck.

    I think this document was screwed up because the person sending it to me had a Mac, and it had been edited over and over again with both a Mac and PC (I always seem to have problems with docs that were created/edited in a Mac). Anyway, thanks again. And if it starts screwing up again, I’ll definitely try what you suggested.


  26. I would like my table-of-contents to be a “table”, i.e., rows and columns. The first column may be the serial number, the second will be “Heading 1”, the third “Heading 2” and the last “page number”. Is it possible?
    –Rajendra 7 November 2011

  27. Hi Rajendra

    I think the only way you can have your TOC in a table is to create it manually — NOT a good idea, in my opinion, unless it is very small.


  28. Thank you.

  29. Hi Rhonda
    In table of contents, the page number of the heading do not line up with the other page numbers.
    Insert caption does not appear when I right click the diagram.
    Could you please help me how can I fix the problem?

  30. Hi Ananta

    For your first problem, try this: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/word-modify-table-of-contents-tab-settings/

    I’m not sure about your second problem. I clicked on a diagram in Word 2003 and ‘Caption’ was listed on the shortcut menu. I did the same in Word 2010 and ‘Insert Caption’ was listed on the shortcut menu. You can also add captions for figures, tables etc. using the menu/ribbon. See Step 2 in this blog post: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/04/27/word-2003-automated-tables-of-figures/


  31. […] based on what she said). I was able to quickly determine the issue — she was trying to create an automatic Table of Contents and despite my instructions on that blog post to the contrary, she hadn’t used ANY styles […]

  32. Rhonda,
    I have my document and the TOC is working great. I need to put a link on a webpage that takes to user to a particular place in the document. Can I use the TOC links to do that?

  33. Hi Rose

    Linking from a web page (HTML) to a particular place in a Word document isn’t something I’ve done, so I’m not sure if you can do it, or how to do it.

    You could PDF the Word doc as I believe you can link to a specific place in a PDF from a web page (you’d need to search for that as it’s not something I’ve blogged about here).

    OR, if the Word doc was saved as HTML then uploaded to the website, you might be able to link to a specific place then. Again, I don’t know how.

    I suspect the TOC would be of no help in this situation.


  34. Rhonda,

    Thanks for the quick reply. I’ll try the pdf route.


  35. Hi, I’m trying to update my TOC. I’ve used the headings etc. and the supplied styles. When U just want to update the page numbers, there’s no problem. But when I go to update the entire table, it messes up the formatting of the whole thing (I want all of the page numbers aligned on the right, regardless of how many words are in that subject heading). But when I use the update table function, it moves the numbers all over the TOC dependent on how many words are in the headings :( How do I update the entire TOC AND ensure that the page numbers remain right justified?

    Thanks for your help!

  36. Hi Remi

    You will need to reinsert your TOC and set the page alignment to right-aligned.

    In Word 2007/2010:
    1. Go to the References tab, Table of Contents group.
    2. Click the Table of Contents button, then select Insert Table of Contents.
    3. On the Table of Contents dialog box, make sure that the Right align page numbers check box is checked, then click OK.
    4. Say Yes to replace the existing TOC.

    Your TOC should behave properly now.


  37. Hi – I found this really useful and managed to set up a table of contents in a matter of minutes.

    However, I want to protect the document which is to be used as form and circulated to several sites for them to populate.

    I know that protection disables hyperlinks and have managed to work around this with normal web links by using a macro button.

    However, this does not work for the table of contents as it comes back with a message saying “DisplayText cannot span more than one line!”.

    Are you able to offer any suggestions for how to maintain functionality while the form is protected?

    Many thanks :)

  38. Further to my last post I’ve since found a way to do what I need on another page.

    “There is a simple way you can enable your hyperlinks in a protected
    document. To do this, you first have to place a Continuous section break on
    the line above the hyperlink and one on the line below the hyperlink (to
    place a Continuous section break, click on Insert Break Continuous).
    Next, you have to “unprotect” the section your hyperlinks are in. Note
    the section of the document your hyperlinks are in (click anywhere on the
    same line as your hyperlink and look at the status bar at the bottom of your
    screen. The status bar is the bar that tells you where you are located in
    the document – the first thing you will see is the page number you are on,
    then the section you are in, total pages in the document, “At – number of
    inches” [such as “At 6.8”], Line number, and Col number). Note the section
    your hyperlinks are in, then click on Tools Protect Document. When the
    “Protect Document” section appears to the right of your document, check the box under 2. Editing Restrictions (box should read “Allow only this type of editing on the document:”), then click the down arrow and choose “Filling in forms”. Once you do that you will notice a blue “Select sections…” link appear under the field. Click on that link and a “Section Protection” screen pops up. Find the section that your hyperlinks are in and “uncheck” the box in front of it, then click on “OK”. Now try protecting your document again and see if you can use your hyperlinks.”


    Thanks anyway :)

  39. Hi Rhonda,

    My problem is that I’m creating a TOC but it will only update the first 3 headings of each chapter (heading 1, heading 2, heading 3). It won’t let me use heading 4. I have highlighted the headings and clicked on heading 4 and it changes the font in the document. Also, if I click on that heading, it recognizes it as heading 4 (above where it shows the different heading options to click on the “heading 4” box is outlined). So the computer recognizes that it’s supposed to be a heading but it just won’t update! Can you help me?


  40. Woops, I should mention I have Word 2011 for Mac.


  41. Hi Mark

    Do you mean the 4th level heading (i.e. the one with ‘Heading 4’ as the style)? Or the sequentially fourth heading in a section?

    If you mean any heading with the ‘Heading 4’ style applied to it, then that’s an easy fix. I’m not sure how you do it in Word 2011 for Mac, but on the Table of Contents dialog box there’s an option to show the number of levels. By default, it’s ‘3’. So change that number to ‘4’. See https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/word-2007-create-an-automatic-table-of-contents/ for a picture of that dialog box in Word 2007/2010 (Windows).

    If that doesn’t work, or you want to set any other style to a Level 1, 2, 3 etc. in the TOC, then go to the end of that post I mention above where you’ll find the instructions for adding or removing a level from the TOC, based on a style.


  42. I am trying to create a TOC that uses the alphabet rather than numbers. I am fine up to Z but cant get the program to accept AA as my next heading. Is it possible to force is? I am working with work 2003.


  43. Hi Kathy

    I doubt you can do this using the standard method as the alphabet only goes to ‘Z’. However, you *may* be able to fudge this by adding the ‘A’ in front of a new sequence, just as you add the word ‘Appendix’ in front of a sequence for appendix numbering. See this blog post for how to do it for Appendix numbering: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/word-2007-create-a-numbered-appendix-heading-style/ — substitute ‘A’ for ‘Appendix’ and see if that works.

    But I’m curious as to why you aren’t using numbers if you have more than 26 Heading 1s.


  44. Hi Rhonda,

    Quick MS Word TOC question. I can make great, active TOC’s all day long until I remove the page numbering from the TOC (since page numbers aren’t relevant for ebooks / Kindle, I’m going with both chapter numbers and chapter titles instead. i.e. “Chapter 1 — The Beginning”).

    As soon as I remove the TOC page numbers, my TOC can still be updated, but it is no longer ‘active’. Before, clicking the number field (only) sent me to the correct place but with that field gone, I thought MS would make either the chapter or chapter title active. What gives? (I have MS Word for Mac 2011).

    Thanks for your help,

  45. Hi Nick

    As far as I am aware, the standard TOC only comes with clickable page numbers (I use Word for Windows). However, there might be something you can do with the hyperlink settings when you insert a customised TOC….

    I just tested inserting a new TOC in Word 2007, using the Insert Table of Content option, not one of the pre-configured ones, and I made sure ‘Use hyperlinks instead of page numbers’ was selected. After I created the TOC, I could hover over any line and it was clickable.


  46. Yes, you’re right, it sounds like the perfect solution — but where can I select “use hyperlinks instead of numbers”? Aaaagh! I have MS Word 2011 so it can’t be because it is too old. Maybe I am, ha, ha.

    Okay, let’s get specific. Under Insert / Table and Index / Table of Contents I see the lovely “show page numbers” box (which I have UNchecked for ebook format.) However, I can’t find “user hyperlinks instead of page numbers” under any of the “modify” or “options” windows. I can’t believe it. I can make great active TOC with page numbers but not without. Where are you little button?!



  47. UPDATE — I hunted around — ALOT — and finally found that by using Insert / Cross-Reference / Reference Type (Heading) and Insert Ref To (Heading Text) AND clicking Insert as hyperlink, I could have the perfect TOC for ebooks. Active, clickable and no page numbers, only the chapter numbers and titles I put in. Whew! Bill Gates, I’d like to kick you in the you-know-what.

    Hope this helps others.

  48. Hi Nick

    Obviously Word for Mac is a little different to Word for Windows as that check box for ‘Use hyperlinks instead of page numbers’ has been in Word (for Window) since at least Word 2003 (see screen shot in the blog post) and I’d guess possibly Word 2000 and perhaps even earlier.

    Anyhow, I’m glad you found a solution! Thanks for sharing it too.


  49. I am using Word 2003, using level 1. Some chapter headings work, others do not show up at all, no matter how many times i go thru the formating and ToC update process.

  50. Hi Dean

    Three things to check:

    * Reinsert the TOC and see if that works. Say ‘Yes’ to replacing the existing TOC.

    * Go to the Heading 1s of the headings not showing in the TOC, select the entire paragraph the heading is in and press Ctrl+Spacebar. This gets rid of any manual formatting that may be affecting the style. Update the TOC and see if that makes any difference.

    * Do you have track changes in this document? If so, are there a lot of them, including track changes for headings? If so, then switch to ‘Final’ view mode in track changes, and update the TOC with track changes turned off. Alternatively, accept all track changes and see if that makes any difference (suggestion: save a copy of the doc first and just work on the copy!).


  51. Thanks for the speedy, detailed reply, and sorry for the delay. I was out for 2 weeks and am starting this foreign-language exercise from scratch. Alas, the manual formating erased all the italicised book + album titles, but thankfully I took your advice and worked from a copy. It did not seem to help. I still get huge chunks of italicixed, underlined blocks of text. I do not have track changes in the document. I’ll give it another shot, see what happens.

  52. Hi Dean

    One other thing… Do you have manual hard page breaks in your doc? If so, these manual page breaks may also have the Heading 1 style and this may be confusing Word. You can see if this is the case by showing the styles area: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/word-display-styles-for-each-paragraph/

    And here’s how to apply a ‘page break before’ attribute instead and remove the manual page break: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/word-how-to-remove-a-page-break-without-removing-the-following-heading-style/


  53. Thanks. No, everything is in Normal mode. I am now working from the original again, since I think I got it down OK on the de-italicicized duplicate. But when I place the cursor over a headline to click on Header 1, a whole bunch of text before and after is also highlighted, and accordingly appears in the TOC. I see this problem was alluded to in the March 27 Q&A, but I don’t know how to change the body text, because when I go to styles/formatting to change the text to Normal, that also changes the headline to Normal – and I’m back to square one, stuck in a loop. (I’m in Word 2003, working in a document that combines cut-and-pasted content from a bunch of other docs, but like I said there are no page breaks or other markings)

  54. ignore! i think i got it – insert page break before headline, delete spaces after headline, then insert fresh para?

  55. I am a first time user trying to create a TOC. I have Microsoft Word 2003.
    I am working on a DHS State Bid and in the bid we reference attachments throughout the entire 100+ page bid. How do I create a TOC for only the attachments? i.e, (Please reference Attachment D – Job Descriptions)

  56. Hi Sheila

    Assuming your attachments are WITHIN the document and that they use a heading style of some sort, then you should be able to cross-reference to them using the cross-reference dialog box. You have to choose the ‘Numbered Heading’ option and you’ll likely find your attachments listed at the very end of the list. I do this all the time for linking to appendices within the document. (see #8 in this post: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/message-to-microsoft-fix-words-cross-reference-dialog-box/)

    If your attachments are separate docs, then you can’t create an auto link to them via the cross-reference dialog box.


  57. Hi Sheila:

    I have a several hundred of word 2003 files. These have TOC that are often a hundred lines or or larger. Visiting each heading and adding a special code to each heading is not practical. The document does have Header 1, Header 2, Header 3, etc. I need to use these headings in word 2010 so when I control-click it will jump to the corect heading.

    Thank you,

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