Word: Add more levels to a TOC

September 19, 2012

By default, Word inserts a Table of Contents (TOC) with three levels of headings. For most people, that’s usually more than enough. However, for very long complex reports, sometimes you need to report more levels — in the case of my client, the regulatory body they were reporting to needed to see five TOC levels. Or perhaps three levels is too many, and you need to just show the Heading 1s.

It’s easy enough to change the TOC levels, but there’s a good chance they won’t indent correctly below the other TOC levels if you’ve set up TOC 1, TOC 2 and TOC 3 styles to indent differently than the default.

Here are instructions for doing both.

Change the heading levels reported in the TOC

  1. Click anywhere inside the TOC.
  2. Go to the References tab > Table of Contents > Insert Table of Contents.
  3. On the Table of Contents window, change the Show levels setting from 3 to 4 or 5, depending on how deep you want to go. Change it to 1 or 2, if you want a much shorter TOC.
  4. Click OK.
  5. Say Yes to replace the existing TOC.

If you also have an automated List of Tables and/or List of Figures, the pagination for these will likely be incorrect as a result of increasing or decreasing the TOC levels, so update those two tables as well.

Modify the TOC 4 and TOC 5 styles

If you want your new TOC levels to be indented below the existing ones, then you may need to change some of the default settings for the TOC 4 and TOC 5 styles. These instructions assume you are comfortable with modifying a style. You’ll need to experiment a bit with the paragraph and indentation settings to get them right for you.

  1. Click anywhere inside the TOC.
  2. Go to the References tab > Table of Contents > Insert Table of Contents.
  3. Click the Modify button.
  4. Select the TOC level style you want to modify, then click the Modify button on the Style window.
  5. On the Modify Style window, clear the Automatically Update check box (optional), then click the Format button and select Paragraph.
  6. On the Paragraph window, consider changing any or all of these settings:
  7. 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/).
  8. Click OK several times to close these windows.
  9. Say Yes if you are asked to re-insert the TOC.
  10. Check that it’s all as you want — if not, repeat these steps changing the paragraph and tab settings until you get it looking how you want.

[Links last checked September 2012]


  1. You are a GENIOUS!!!!! :)))
    You go straight to the point, instead of so much blah blah blah… I spent hours reading those and getting nowhere!
    Thank you!!!

  2. In my general menu under “Formats” its not showing a field for “Show Levels”… any idea why?

  3. Hi Michelle

    I have no idea why you’re not seeing that. I opened a new blank doc with NO headings at all and still get that field showing. I’m on a PC using Word 2010 — are you using a Mac? (I can’t answer questions about Word for Mac as I don’t use it).

    Also, as far as I recall this ‘Show Fields’ has been in Word since at least Word 2000, and likely before, so it’s not a new feature.

    I suggest you close Word, shut down you computer, restart, reopen Word and see if it shows then.


  4. Super explanation! Straight to the point.

  5. thanks. I used the custom table of content in the (table of content) on the toolbar.

  6. Excellent! Just what I needed. Thank you so much !!!

  7. But my TOC template does not show the Number of Levels line with its drop-down list of levels. It goes to 3 (Word’s Default) and does not give me the option of changing levels. I am in Word 2016.

  8. Hi Inspirations By Katheryn

    I just checked on my laptop with Word 2016 installed, and up to 9 TOC levels were available. Did you click the up/down arrows next to the ‘3’ in ‘Show Levels’? Clicking the up arrow will take you to 4, 5, 6, etc., while clicking the down arrow will take you back to levels 2 and 1.


  9. Yes, what you saw is normal. I’ve used it on all 66 of my books. But suddenly that option is not appearing.

  10. That’s strange. You can’t delete Headings 1 to 9 (though you can hide them from the list of available styles), so it’s not like they could be deleted, which means they *should* be available to select from.

    I had a thought, but it didn’t change anything — although you can’t delete the H1-9 styles, you can modify them. There’s a setting in a style’s Paragraph options for the Outline Level but when I changed one of the heading styles to have ‘Body Text’ instead of a ‘Level x’, nothing changed for the TOC levels.

    The next thought was a setting you get to when you click ‘Options’ on the window where you see the ‘Show Levels’ for the TOC. By default, my options are set to Build TOC from: Styles (checked) and ‘Outline Levels’ (checked). I unchecked ‘Outline Levels’, but that didn’t make any difference either.

    So I have no idea what’s causing yours to be different.


  11. In my Word 2016 I am also getting a lot of white-screen interruptions when I type in any document. It’s been going on for months. I paid $300 to two techies but they couldn’t figure out the cause. So I bought a new computer. Same problem. I’ve turned in scores of reports to Microsoft.

  12. This was so amazingly helpful to use! Thank you for such a straight forward and easy guide!

  13. Very helpful.

  14. I am having a problem where the changes i make to the number of levels don’t stay in place. I change the levels to 5, save and close the document and then when I reopen the document it’s defaulted back to 3 levels. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  15. Hi Stephen

    First, it’s not you or your document! I think you’ve found a glitch in Word, as I was able to replicate what you saw, and more. For your info, I’m using Office 365, installed locally on a Windows 10 PC.

    I opened a doc that I knew used 5 heading levels, though the client only wanted 3 displayed in the TOC. I reset ‘Show levels’ to 5, and updated the TOC. All was fine and the 5 levels displayed. I then clicked inside the TOC and went back to check the custom TOC settings. At first, the Show Levels option had disappeared from the dialog box altogether! I saved and closed the doc and reopened it. This time Show Levels was back and it said 5 levels. I changed it back to 3, saved and reopened, and reset to 5, updated the TOC and checked the Show Levels again — this time it said 2! I cancelled out of the dialog as I didn’t want to update it like that, then tested it again. I variously got these:
    * no Show Levels option at all
    * Show Levels set to 2 (without me changing anything)
    * Show Levels set to 3 (without me changing anything)
    * Show Levels set to 5 (without me changing anything, except to set it 5 at an early stage).

    Something very strange is going on here, and I suspect it’s a bug, not a feature. If you cancel out of the custom TOC dialog box without changing anything, your original last setting that you OK’d should hold — at least it did for my testing.


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