Word: Modify Table of Contents tab settings

May 12, 2009


You have:

  • an auto-generated Table of Contents (TOC) in your Word document
  • changed the page margins for the document — but now the right-aligned tab doesn’t extend to the full width of the new page margins (let’s say the current right-tab setting is 13.5 cm but you want it to be 17 cm)
  • a dotted tab leader […] from the TOC entry to the page number on the right, which you want to preserve.


There are probably a couple of ways of adjusting the right tab position, but here’s a method that works for me. The process for doing this in Word 2003 and Word 2007 is similar.

  1. Click once anywhere in the Table of Contents.
  2. Open the Table of Contents tab:
    • Word 2003: Select Insert > Reference > Index and Tables from the menu. Select the Table of Contents tab.
    • Word 2007: Click the References tab, click the Table of Contents button, then select Insert Table of Contents from the bottom of the drop-down menu. The Table of Contents tab is the only tab displayed.
  3. Click Modify.
  4. Select TOC 1, then click Modify again.
  5. Click Format, then select Tabs.
  6. Select the tab stop position you want to change (e.g. 13.5 cm).
  7. Click Clear.
  8. Set a new right tab stop position the same width as the body text of your document (e.g. 17 cm):
    • Type 17 cm in the text box at the top.
    • Select the Right alignment option.
    • Select the 2 (dotted) leader option.
    • Click Set.
    • Click OK to return to the Modify Style window.
    • Click OK again to return to the Style window.

    Setting tab stops

    Setting tab stops

  9. Repeat steps 4 to 8 for the other styles (TOC 2, TOC 3) that have tab stops you want to modify. Use the same value (e.g. 17 cm) for the right tab stop position for each.
  10. When you’re finished, click OK to close the Style window.
  11. Click OK.
  12. Click OK when you’re asked to replace the Table of Contents.
  13. Check everything’s as you want it; make further modifications as necessary.

Aligning the left side

In answer to Praveen’s question in the Comments, here’s how to set the various left alignments.

To get something that looks like this:

toc_indentedyou’ll need to modify the TOC styles so they are similar to these (all values in cm):

  • TOC 1: Paragraph indentation 0 cm; Tab stops 1 cm (left) and 16 cm (right)
  • TOC 2: Paragraph indentation 1 cm, hanging 1.25 cm; Tab stops 2 cm (left) and 16 cm (right)
  • TOC 3: Paragraph indentation 2 cm, hanging 1.25 cm; Tab stops 3.5 cm (left) and 16 cm (right)

If you want something that looks like this:


then set all the paragraph indentations to 0 cm and the left tab stops to, say, 1.5 cm. (The reason you set them to 1.5 cm is to allow for the extra space taken up by the extra numbers in the Heading 3 level.)


  1. I looked for this everywhere and could not find it until now! Thanks so much!!

  2. 1. Head ………………….1
    1.1. Head …………………1
    1.1.1. Head ……………….1

    I am not able to set the tab default when i generate toc it’s showing with the above toc generated with different tab space for each level, please help me to generate default toc with it’s tab space.

  3. Hi Praveen

    I’ve added more information to the blog post about the left alignment.

  4. Thank’s Rhonda for your great Help.

  5. 1. Heading…………………1
    1.1. Heading…………………1
    1.1.1. Heading…………………1

  6. Do you know if it is possible to add more information to a TOC than the normal text on left, page on right? I am able to do it by setting the tabs in the modify section when setting up, but then find that I must go to each instance and hit the TAB key to move the text over. Example below.
    Left text More info here More here

    I have spent days on this problem and imagine it can be done with switches and fields but I’m not strong on those and was hoping for an easier answer.

  7. Sorry, but I don’t know if what you’re asking for can be done.

  8. I have a more complex problem with auto building a TOC. I’d like to have multiple tab stops in a TOC in addition to the left margin and right page number – to left-align three other columns. Below is a Picasa link to a hand-built TOC that I want to be able to create with the auto-bulid/auto-update TOC feature in MS Word as I extend such a document. Note that I used the “…” leader between tabs as a horizontal visual alignment guide and not hand-typed ‘.’ characters:

    HAND-BUILT (what I want)


    if I set tab stops in the headings of the document proper and then do an “update FIELD” in the TOC, Word decides to strip out the tabs and replace with spaces in the auto-built/updated version, leaving me with the left and right tabs only and grossly misaligned inner columns.



    My painful workaround has been to replace the tab stops in the section headings with spaces, so unless I use a fixed-pitch font, no matter how much I add and delete individual spaces in the headings, the best I can do for inner column alignment is a drunken vertical-ish line.

    Has anybody found a solution for this? I’ve been looking on-and-off for a number of years for a solution.

  9. my whole toc tend to bold…. even i set the style for toc2 and 3 to normal font. the funny bit is, the page number ain’t bold. what should i do?

  10. Hi Rin

    I assume you modified the TOC 1, TOC 2 and TOC 3 styles to not be bold via the Styles pane?

    If so, try this: When the TOC is created, select it and press Ctrl+Spacebar. Ctrl=Sapcebar removes any manual formatting and returns the paragraphs to the underlying style applied to them.

    Other than that, I haven’t any clue as to what’s causing this.


  11. I appreciate your blog – finally found what I was looking for. Thanks.

  12. wonderful – thank you – had been fighting these issues for a long time

  13. An excellent solution to my nagging problem – we’ve got a company letterhead which has a side bar that wreaks havoc on most of the pre-formatted Word setups. Thanks so much!!!

  14. […] If you need to change the tab settings, click the Tabs button and make the changes there (see https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/word-modify-table-of-contents-tab-settings/). […]

  15. I’m using Word 2010 and it’s madness. The settings are different to what is above and all I want is change the left Tab settings for the TOC. I grit my teeth not to get abusive with Microsoft.

  16. Hi Eibhir

    I also have Word 2010 and just checked the instructions above — they work the same in Word 2010 as they do in Word 2007. You need to change the styles using the steps above, not just manually adjust the tab indents on the ruler for the TOC as these manual changes won;t hold when you update the TOC.


  17. thats really awesome, you saved me. God Bless you

  18. thanks a lot.. this article help me to get done my final project..


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