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Table of Contents styles in Word

There are many different ways to change the look a Table of Contents from a Microsoft Word document.  The standard ways, taught in most classes, force you to format your document in a way that suits Word.  We’ll show you how to get a Table of Contents (TOC) from a document formatted the way you want.

Why bother?  Sometimes you have to format your document in a very specific way – legal users get this all the time.  Court documents can have strict formatting rules; if the document isn’t right the judge can get cranky or worse, the submission is rejected.

If you’re stuck with fixed formatting, you have to make Word work to suit the formatting not the other way around.

Standard Heading Formatting

Here’s how it normally works in Microsoft Word, it’ll be familiar to anyone who has covered Table of Contents in a Word class. This listing has a heading, sub-heading and body text on entirely separate lines, which is Word’s standard approach

Those heading lines can be used by Word to create a Table of Contents like this:

The ‘one heading per line’ formatting isn’t always allowed.  Or it might not suit your document preferences.  Certainly, each heading line takes up a lot of vertical space and wastes a lot of white space on the right.

If only you had other options … and you do …

Lead in Emphasis Headings

When Word introduced linked paragraph/character styles, it became possible to have a ‘mixed’ Heading with just the selected first words in the TOC.

  • Start from a line in Normal style (or whatever style you want for the paragraph).
  • Highlight the first words that you want to appear in the Table of Contents.
    • This method only works for the first or ‘lead in’ words of the heading.
  • Format the selection with the Heading style you want
    • Because you’ve made a selection before formatting, Word will only apply the linked style to the selection, not the entire paragraph.

With Word 2016 default styles the headings look like this:

Now the Table of Contents has only the ‘Apollo …’ not the astronaut names on the rest of the line.

Word is grabbing just the text formatted with the heading style for the TOC and ignoring the rest of the line.

Lead in Emphasis paragraph

Perhaps you want your document to be a series of paragraphs but still appear in the Table of Contents.  That’s possible, using the same method as above.

Here’s an example of that with the default Word Heading 3 style.

The lead in text can look similar to the rest of the paragraph.  To look different from standard one-line heading styles, create a linked style with the necessary outline level (Format | Paragraph | Indents and Spacing | Outline Level).  See Making a linked style for lead in paragraphs.

Both the above examples will look like this in the Table of Contents.

Finding the Style Separator feature for Word TOC’s
Choose the words to show in a Word Table of Contents
Four tricks to shrink a Table of Contents in Word
Table of Contents basics in Word

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