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Microsoft Word for Dissertations

Describes many of the special features of Microsoft Word you can use to make formatting your dissertation easier. While it's focused on dissertations, this information is useful for any long document.

Automatic Table of Contents

An automatic Table of Contents relies on Styles to keep track of page numbers and section titles for you automatically. Microsoft Word can scan your document and find everything in the Heading 1 style and put that on the first level of your table of contents, put any Heading 2’s on the second level of your table of contents, and so on.

If you want an automatic table of contents you need to apply the Heading 1 style to all of your chapter titles and front matter headings (like “Dedication” and “Acknowledgements”).  All section headings within your chapters should use the Heading 2 style.  All sub-section headings should use Heading 3, etc....

If you have used Heading styles in your document, creating an automatic table of contents is easy.

  1. Place your cursor where you want your table of contents to be.
  2. On the References Ribbon, in the Table of Contents Group, click on the arrow next to the Table of Contents icon, and select Custom Table of Contents.
  3. If you want to change the style of your table of contents (e.g. you want more space between the items on level 1 and level 2 of your table of contents, or you want all your level 1 items to be bold), click on the Modify button, select the TOC level you want to change, then click the Modify button to do so.
    • We suggest that you set each level (Chapters, sections, sub-sections, aka TOC 1, TOC 2, TOC 3) to be single-spaced, with 12 points of space afterwards.  This makes each item in your ToC clump together if they're long enough to wrap to a second line, with the equivalent of a double space between each item, and makes the ToC easier to read and understand than if every line were double-spaced. See the video below for details.
  4. If you want to change which headings appear in your Table of Contents, you can do so by changing the number in the Show levels: field. Select "1" to just include the major sections (Acknowledgements, List of Figures, Chapters, etc...).  Select "4" to include Chapters, sections, sub-sections, and sub-sub-sections.
  5. Click OK to insert your table of contents.

The table of contents is a snapshot of the headings and page numbers in your document, and does not automatically update itself as you make changes. At any time, you can update it by right-clicking on it and selecting Update field.  Notice that once the table of contents is in your document, it will turn gray if you click on it. This just reminds you that it is a special field managed by Word, and is getting information from somewhere else.

Modifying the format of your Table of Contents

The video below shows how to make your Table of Contents a little easier to read by formatting the spacing between items in your Table of Contents. You may recognize the "Modify Style" window that appears, which can serve as a reminder that you can use this window to modify more than just paragraph settings. You can modify the indent distance, or font, or tab settings for your ToC, just the same as you may have modified it for Styles. 

an image of the Modify Table of Contents window, where you can set Show Levels

By default, the Table of Contents tool creates the ToC by pulling in Headings 1 through 3. If you'd like to modify that -- to only show H1's, or to show Headings 1 through 4 -- then go to the References tab and select Custom Table of Contents.  In the window that appears, set Show Levels to "1" to only show Heading 1's in the Table of Contents, or set it to "4" to show Headings 1 through 4.

Bonus tip for updating fields like the Table of Contents

You'll quickly realize that all of the automatic Lists and Tables need to be updated occasionally to reflect any changes you've made elsewhere in the document -- they do not dynamically update by themselves. Normally, this means going to each field, right-clicking on it and selecting "Update Field". 

Alternatively, to update all fields throughout your document (Figure/Table numbers & Lists, cross-references, Table of Contents, etc...), just select "Print". This will cause Word to update everything in anticipation of printing. Once the print preview window appears, just cancel.