Fixing some table of contents update issues

June 20, 2012

(adapted from a ‘Writing Tip’ email I recently sent to work colleagues [Word 2007 environment])


Bottom line: Before releasing your document, turn off Track Changes then update the Table of Contents, List of Tables, and List of Figures so that they reflect the current headings, captions, and page numbers.

Some recent questions from my authors have related to updating the Table of Contents (TOC), List of Tables (LOT), and List of Figures (LOF), common things that can go wrong when doing so, and how to fix them.

1. Why does my Table of Contents look a mess?

In this example, the TOC entries are all in red and there’s a change bar to the right of the TOC. There’s also a deleted TOC below the inserted TOC. How did it get like this? You had Track Changes turned on when you updated the TOC.

To fix it, turn off Track Changes (Review tab), then update the TOC again (see below for how).

That’s it! Super easy with an immediate reduction in stress related to things going wrong with your document just before your deadline ;-)

2. Why aren’t the things I’ve added, changed or deleted reflected in the TOC/LOT/LOF?

The second issue relates to why the new tables/figures, sections etc. that you’ve added to the document aren’t appearing in the TOC/LOT/LOF, or why your changes or deletions aren’t reflected in the TOC/LOT/LOF. Typically, the reason is that you’ve forgotten to update the TOC/LOT/LOF – these lists don’t update automatically. There are several ways you can update these lists, but the safest way that seems to work properly every time, is to use the ‘Update Table’ buttons on the References tab in Word.

To update a TOC:

  1. Turn off Track Changes.
  2. Click anywhere inside the TOC.
  3. Go to the References tab.
  4. Go to the far left of that tab, and click the Update Table button in the Table of Contents group.
  5. If asked, select the option to Update entire table and click OK.

To update a LOT:

  1. Turn off Track Changes.
  2. Click anywhere inside the List of Tables.
  3. Go to the References tab.
  4. Go to the middle of that tab, and click the Update Table button in the Captions group.
  5. If asked, select the option to Update entire table and click OK.

To update a LOF: Same procedure as for updating a LOT, but for step 2, you click anywhere inside the List of Figures first.

3. Why aren’t all my tables/figures listed even though I’ve updated the lists using the methods above?

This issue invariably relates to Track Changes. If you’ve inserted or deleted a table or figure, then it’s possible that the table or figure caption won’t get listed in the LOT/LOF. Dealing with the table/figure Track Changes by accepting/rejecting them usually sorts this out. After accepting/rejecting the change, update the LOT/LOF and all should be well again. I haven’t found any other way of solving this one.

4. I get an ‘Error! Reference not found’ message in the TOC/LOT/LOF instead of a page number.

I’m not sure what causes this, but turning off Track Changes and updating the TOC/LOT/LOF should fix it.


  1. Hi,

    I was able to make a macro that updates the table of contents and check for the bookmark errors. Don’t have it at home. Will post tomorrow.

  2. Sub XREF_CHECK()

    ‘ XREF_CHECK Macro

    ActiveWindow.ActivePane.VerticalPercentScrolled = 0
    With ActiveDocument.Bookmarks
    .DefaultSorting = wdSortByName
    .ShowHidden = True
    End With
    ActiveWindow.ActivePane.VerticalPercentScrolled = 56
    With Selection.Find
    .Text = “Reference source not found”
    .Replacement.Text = “”
    .Forward = True
    .Wrap = wdFindContinue
    .Format = False
    .MatchCase = False
    .MatchWholeWord = False
    .MatchWildcards = False
    .MatchSoundsLike = False
    .MatchAllWordForms = False
    End With
    End Sub

  3. I assigned that macro to the Alt u keystroke for update – I run it before publishing my doc.


  4. Thanks for sharing your macro, Joan.


  5. In earlier versions of Word (up to 2003) I seem to remember selecting the whole document (Ctrl-A) and pressing the Function Key F9. Does this still work in Office 2010?

  6. They broke Ctrl A in WORD 2007..don’t know about 2010.

    You can add the command to the Quick Access bar – but it is still click function :-(

  7. Thanks Joan. Another innovative and amazing product update :-). I have used Word 2007 and I thought it worked but 2010 I have not used in earnest. The lack of vertical space on my laptop for the ribbon interface has persuaded me to keep Office 2003 for the time being.

  8. Hi Stephen and Joan

    Ctrl+A (select the entire document) then F9 (update all fields) still works in Word 2007 and Word 2010 for me. I’ve not encountered any issues with it, so if it’s not working for you, perhaps that key combination (Ctrl+A) has been assigned to another action, such as a custom macro?

    The reason I didn’t suggest Ctrl+A/F9 to my colleagues (as above) is that it doesn’t always update everything in our documents because we also have a custom ‘update field’ macro, which only updates the TOC/LOT/LOF the first time it’s used.


  9. Hi Stephen

    You can minimize the ribbon in Word 2007/Word 2010 to get it out of the way and give you some extra screen ‘real estate’.

    There are two methods:
    * right-click anywhere in the ribbon and select ‘Minimize the ribbon’, OR
    * double-click on any ribbon tab (NOT the ribbon — the tab for that ribbon)

    To maximize it again, just click the tab you want. To minimize it again, click the tab again.

    To turn off the minimize function, right-click anywhere in the ribbon and select the checked ‘Minimize the ribbon’.


  10. Thanks Rhonda – while using Word 2007 at a client site I also downloaded ‘Classic UI.dotm’ which changes the interface to that of Word 2003. It worked but I continued to use the standard 2007 interface. Well I did have two 22″ screens to work with so the vertical space mattered much less.
    On my own PCs I have continued with Office 2003 rather than pay for an ‘upgrade’, the interface being the main feature, I might have to switch on and off.
    If I must update to save conversion times for a remote working project using complex dotx files, I would charge it as a project cost. Otherwise I see no added value; nor do I in Windows 7 Professional – it feels like Vista 1.5 Beta but I must stop moaning here :-).

  11. Hi Stephen

    I was/am quite unimpressed with Vista (still have it on a laptop), but recently I got a new PC with Windows 7 on it. I am quite impressed with Windows 7, and don’t regret my decision to go from XP to Windows 7 at all.

    Likewise, moving from Word 2003 to 2007 was initially difficult (“where did everything go?’), but I’m quite used to it now and find 2003 very clunky. 2007 to 2010 is almost the same, so there’s no new learning curve there.


  12. I agree it is easy to get used to v2007 and the slightly better v2010 (welcome back File menu) – I wrote a 300+ page call for tender in v2007. I guess it is just a cost for hardly any additional function – so I am miserly :-). Re Windows 7 the main irritant for me is the behaviour of Windows Explorer – but sorry, this is off topic. (I appreciate your blog and comments – thanks).

  13. Hi Rhonda,
    Many thanks for your extremely useful blog, which is written in a language that I can understand. It provides solutions I can apply without having to learn how to program or create macros. I have just managed to fix the infamous ‘Jason tab’ in my Table of Contents (mine was splitting entries over lines) thanks to your advice.

    However, I have another problem, for which I don’t seem to be able to find a solution. The TOC duplicates the word ‘Contents’ as the first TOC page entry.

    When I applied numbered headings to the style (Word 2007) as requested by the client, the ‘Table of Contents’ heading was automatically numbered ‘1’. I changed the numbering to ‘0’ and removed the words ‘Table of’.

    However, that seems to have generated the duplication. I have tried to change the TOC headings, but to no avail. Do you perhaps have a solution?

    Thank you in advance, Felicity

  14. Hi Felicity

    The reason you’re getting the ‘Contents’ heading listed in the TOC list is that is has a Heading 1 style (or similar) applied to it. If the TOC is set to pick up Heading 1s (as it is by default), then it’s going to pick up every Heading 1 whether it has outline numbers or not.

    There are two solutions — the first one is the easiest to implement.

    Solution 1: Word 2010 (and 2007; possibly 2003?) has a built-in style called ‘TOC Heading’ (it may be hidden by default). It’s based on Heading 1 but doesn’t ever appear in the TOC because it doesn’t have a ‘heading’ outline level. Use that style instead. Modify it if you want.

    Solution 2: Create a new style that looks like the Heading 1 style (font, font size etc.), but that isn’t automatically part of the styles that the TOC picks up. You do this when you create the new style by making sure it has ‘Body Text’ as the outline level in the Paragraph dialog box. This is essentially the same as solution 1, but you’re creating your own style instead of using Word’s built-in style.


  15. Thanks so much, Rhonda! Solution 1 did the trick!

  16. Hi
    First of all thanks for this superb article. I got a problem in updating the TOC. While updating I want only the main headings to be updated but right now it gets updated along with the subheadings too and I need to manually delete them. Is there a solution wherein the TOC updates only the main headings ? Please let me know. Many thanks

  17. Hi

    when I update the table I want only the headings to get updated. But right now the subheadings are also getting added. Is there a way to fix this issue. Please let me know. Thanks

  18. Hi vgprad

    Everything in the TOC gets updated — you can’t pick and chose. However, you can set it so the TOC only displays 1 or 2 levels of headings, not 3 (default) or more. See this post: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/word-add-more-levels-to-a-toc/ — instead of adding more levels, you change the setting to 1 to just get the Heading 1s reported in the TOC.


  19. Hello is there any way that you can update a TOC showing independent tracked changes as at present they are either shown as an insertion and/or deletion. I hope this makes sense but if for example – 1. United Kingdom – was then changed to 1. United States – I want to see a strike through on United Kingdom with United States shown as an insertion in the TOC.

  20. Hi Helly

    I don’t think there’s a way you can do that using the auto TOC.


  21. I have a couple of different questions. First, is there any way to actually see the toc codes? I have “show all” turned on, but the codes still cannot be seen.

    Second – When I create the table of contents, the first (and sometimes second) paragraph is included in the toc. I have a feeling there are some hidden toc or other codes that are causing this. Any suggestions for how to find these? (The original document was provided by the client.)

  22. Hi Linda

    You can check the codes used in compiling the TOC by putting your cursor in front of the first TOC entry (NOT inside an entry — it must be in front of the first one). Then right click and select Toggle Field Codes. Repeat to turn the field codes off again. (Note: ‘Show all’ only shows formatting marks, not field codes. To see ALL field codes in your doc, in Word 2010, go to File > Options > Advanced, scroll down about halfway and select the check box for ‘Show field codes instead of their values’. You will probably want to turn this off after you’ve checked!)

    As far as paragraphs getting included in the TOC, they likely had a Heading style applied to them and then were manually formatted to look like normal text. You need to apply a normal style to those paragraphs. See this blog post: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/pictures-in-a-word-table-of-contents/#comment-230277


  23. Hi I haven’t had this issue before, but when I now open up documents on my computer the table of contents displays like this :
    {TOC \o “1-6” \h \z \u}
    …the full list of contents is not displayed. How do I get the full list of contents back on the document. I haven’t changed anything, so this must be a microsoft office 365 update or something.
    Please help as I have assignments that need to be in very soon.
    Thx in advance.

  24. Hi Ben

    It’s very simple — I expect you did a key combination that told Word to show field codes (the TOC is a field). To fix it, go to File > Options > Advanced. Scroll down to the ‘Show Document Content’ section, and uncheck the box for ‘Show field codes instead of their values’.

    That will sort it out for you. It’s nothing to do with Office 365 — it’s something that’s been in Word forever and is turned off by default.


  25. Here’s one for you then – Table of Contents (and List of Figures, List of Tables, etc.) all change to the same page number when I go to print the document.

    I have uploaded a video to Youtube (https://youtu.be/jkU8qxXX2RE) – if you don’t trust this link, simply search ‘TOC Glitch’ on Youtube and hopefully you’ll see my video of exactly what I mean.

    I really need a solution for this issue, not a work-around, an actual fix. If anyone can help I will be eternally grateful.

  26. Hi Keith

    I didn’t realise this was still an issue, as I haven’t seen it in a long time. I addressed it in a 2008 blog article (but first published it in 2006): https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/02/04/word-2003-page-2-everywhere-in-table-of-contents/.


  27. I have the same issue but the “solution” doesn’t solve it… (None of the prerequisites apply in my case either.)

  28. For anyone on MS Word 2016 for Mac, go to the Top of your TOC Press Option+F9,
    This will show you the field code Which after selecting to not show page numbers will look something like this.
    { TOC \o “1-2” \n } The \o and 1-2 means it’s using outline level 1 to 2, \n removes the page numbers.
    At this point the TOC doesn’t work you cant use it to navigate your book,
    To fix this add \h so it will look like { TOC \o “1-2” \n\h } press option+F9 again, right click and select update field.
    Your toc should be fully functional again without the page numbers.

  29. Hello,
    Even though I have managed to create a TOC for many documents before, I face a problem on a document I am working on now. Specifically when I try to create a TOC I only get a some text from the document instead of all the paragraphs and sub-paragraphs which are numbered and in bolt letters. Any suggestions?

  30. Hi Vassos

    You cannot create an automatic TOC without using styles. See this post for how: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/word-2007-create-an-automatic-table-of-contents/ (Even though it’s for Word 2007, the same/similar steps apply in later versions of Word.)


  31. When updating my TOC in Word 2016, all the tables in the document lose their formatting. How can I correct this?

  32. Hi John

    That’s very odd behaviour, and not something I’ve ever seen before. Can you clarify exactly what loses its formatting — the table captions? the table text? borders and shading? or something else?


  33. Hi Rhonda – I’ve never seen that either. All formatting – borders, shading, lines, everything except the text and the placement in the columns and rows literally went “blank”. It was as if I made a table with white border lines and shadings. I decided that the file was corrupt because restarting my machine did not change the behavior. So I selected all, copied and pasted into a new word document, and that solved my problem. Thanks!

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