Word: Getting rid of the ‘Jason tab’ in a TOC

July 12, 2010

Every so often an automatic Table of Contents does something weird. Usually I can fix it by fiddling with styles and/or settings. But occasionally it has me beat, and the only solution is a ‘quick and dirty’ workaround that solves the problem right now, but doesn’t fix it permanently.

An example is something called a ‘Jason tab’ — so named because it keeps on returning even after you think you’ve got rid of it… just like Jason in the ‘Friday the 13th’ movies (or whatever they were — I never watch gory or scary movies).

For example, here’s what the Jason tab looks like in a TOC:

You’ll notice that the page numbering has scooched over to the left for some of the TOC entries (1 in the screen shot above). The only ones affected are those with short heading titles; however, it’s not ALL the headings with short titles at TOC 2 level that exhibited this problem in the TOC — only those with a tab marker at 3.5 cm (2).

Well, I tried every setting I knew of to find that 3.5 cm sucker. I cleared all tab stops, I added tab stops, I set hanging paragraph indents, I combined these in various ways, I howled at the moon (well, perhaps not that one!). You name it, I tried it. The only way I could get the page numbers for these entries to scoot over to the right was to go to each entry and drag that 3.5 cm tab marker off the ruler (or, even easier, to press the Tab key between the end of the word and the page number). Not a satisfactory solution where you have more than a couple of entries that do this. And it’s only a temporary fix anyway, as it comes back next time you update the TOC!

I tried some solutions suggested by members of the Austechwriter email discussion list, but didn’t find one that worked. But at least I knew what it was called, so off to Google “Jason tab” to see what I could find. And hidden among all the results was the solution that worked for me — a TOC switch: \w — documented by the Microsoft Word MVPs.

Here’s how to fix it:

  1. Position your cursor immediately in front of the first TOC entry (or select the entire TOC).
  2. Right-click, then select Toggle Field Codes. You’ll get something that looks like this:
  3. Type \w at the end of the field code, making sure you put a space in front of the \. Your TOC field code should look similar to this:
  4. Right-click on the field code, then select Toggle Field Codes. You’ll get your TOC back.
  5. Finally, update your TOC to see the changes.

Voila! The page numbers are back on the right and that Jason tab marker is GONE for good:

This worked beautifully for me!

However, there was one TOC 2 level entry this solution didn’t work for — an entry that was very short and that didn’t use outline heading numbering as it was part of the Executive Summary. If anyone has any suggestions for how to fix this one permanently, I’d be happy to try it out. I’ve tried adding spaces (including non-breaking spaces) and tabs to the heading, but that didn’t work. Again, I’ve fiddled with the tab and paragraph settings, all to no avail. The only thing that worked was adding an ‘s’ to the word in the heading title, but that’s not what the author wants, so, while it forced the page number to the right, it doesn’t fix the problem.

BTW, here were the suggestions members of the Austechwriter email discussion list– I’m listing them all here in case there are any that might work for you:

  • Clear the formatting of one or more entries and return to the base style, e.g. TOC 2 (Ctrl+Q to clear manual paragraph formatting; Ctrl+<space> to clear manual character formatting). My experience: This worked straight away, but after I closed then re-opened the document and updated the TOC, the tab came back.
  • (Related to the suggestion above) Clear the paragraph styles for the TOC using a macro. My experience: I didn’t try this as the initial suggestion only provided a temporary fix for me.
  • Insert an additional tab (e.g. 0.25 cm) just before the tabs that aren’t working properly and set it to the same formatting (left/right aligned, dotted line etc.) as the ‘broken’ tab. My experience: This solution changed nothing for me. However, it’s possible that I interpreted the instructions incorrectly.
  • Drag the marker off the ruler. My experience: This works, but it’s only a temporary solution. As soon as you update the TOC, it comes back.
  • It’s related to the heading style, not the TOC style, so check the heading style. My experience: I could see nothing in the Heading 2 style that could have created a 3.5 cm tab marker. And even if there was, why wasn’t it doing it to ALL my short TOC 2 entries?
  • Add an extra tab with similar properties a short distance (but greater than 0.1 cm) before the offending tab in the Style for that TOC entry within the document only – not within the template – makes it go away in that document and it never comes back. My experience: This solution changed nothing for me. However, it’s possible that I interpreted the instructions incorrectly.

See also:


  1. You might look at the hanging indent for the TOC 2 style; reduce the hanging indent and that might resolve your problem.

  2. I tried that — reduced it, increased it. No difference for this instance. The other problem reducing/increasing the hanging indent is that it affects ALL TOC2 entries, including those with outline numbering, which then throws them out.

  3. Whenever I have headings in a document that I do not want to appear in the TOC, such as subheads in a summary, or the headings on the TOC and List of Figures or List of Tables pages themselves, I set up duplicate headings that have all the style characteristics except numbering of the numbered headings, such as Heading 1 and Head1/NoTOC, Heading 2 and Head2/NoTOC, etc. Then when I set up the TOC, I select Options> Based on Styles (and unselect Outline Levels), then unselect any of the duplicate heading styles.

    I also set up my TOC styles to have a right-tab after the text for the page numbers to push them to the right with a dotted tab. The TOC styles should have only one left tab for the hanging indent and the right tab for the page numbers. If any other tabs appear in some headings, there may be a tab hidden in the headings themselves. (Check the tab settings in the customize Outline Numbered List dialog.)

  4. Thanks Margaret. Unfortunately, the client wants the Executive Summary subheads to appear in the TOC. And yes, I’ve checked for ‘Jason’ tabs in that section too. And the only tabs set for TOC2 are for the hanging indent and the right tab (both required). Removing the hanging indent tab doesn’t fix it (plus it affects the other TOC 2 entries).

    The workaround is to ignore it (most people won’t notice!), or to manually fix it just before creating the PDF of the document.

  5. […] Getting rid of the ‘Jason’ tab (an unwanted tab) in a TOC: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/word-getting-rid-of-the-jason-tab-in-a-toc/ […]

  6. This is amazing and makes me so happy! (And yes, I realize what a pathetic, boring person I must be in order to be thrilled by something like this. Welcome to my life.) Writing legal documents, I have pulled my hair out over this for YEARS. Thank you.

  7. The fix I use for Jason Tabs is to use a macro to update the TOCs and remove the local tab setting that gets added. Assuming the jason tab is not part of the TOC style then this works well. It is the equivalent of selecting the TOC and pressing F9 followed by Ctrl-Q
    Sub UpdateTOCs()
    ‘update toc and remove the jason tabs (local formatting tabs appearing in toc with a hanging text indent)
    Dim aToc As TableOfContents
    For Each aToc In ActiveDocument.TablesOfContents
    Next aToc
    End Sub

  8. I had an issue that sounds exactly like this. it turned out that there were 2 tab stops in the TOC2 style that would come in to affect when the title was short, I edited the style and this removed the issue.

  9. Thank you!! This drives me crazy and I have tried everything! This is so clean and simple. I love it!

  10. For me, in the Developer’s tab, the document template was set to ‘automatically update document styles’. So, I either had to turn this flag off OR when making a style change, click the ‘new documents based on this template’ flag so the template was updated too.

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