Word: Styles, part 1 – the basics & easy table of contents

I have spent a good bit of time recently composing training materials for an upcoming IDEA training session. With over 70 pages so far with many more to go, I assumed that one of the most daunting and annoying tasks would be creating the table of contents. I was aware the built-in feature for creating a TOC, but I assumed it would be too complicated. I’m glad I was wrong. The first in a series on styles, today’s tip is and will show how to set a few basic styles and use them to create a table of contents automatically.

Microsoft Office programs have included a feature for managing “Styles” for a few versions now. With 2007, applying and modifying styles is really simple. For this tip, I created a simple document with headings, subheadings, and paragraphs of content. Until I apply styles, Word assumes each section of text is a paragraph. That is why you almost always see the “Normal” style selected in the Styles section of the ribbon.


The benefits of using styles are many:

  • Easily update the format of your document. Modifying “Heading 1” updates all of the sections of your document that use that style.
  • Using the built-in styles can make your document look more professional and consistent.
  • Improved conversion to PDF and other document formats.
  • Easily create tables of contents and cross-references within your document.

Apply styles

When I apply a heading style to a heading in my document, Word now understands that it is not just another paragraph. To apply a heading style:

  1. Place the cursor anywhere on the heading line.
  2. Click one of the heading styles on the ribbon. The first line of my document is a main heading, so I will select Heading 1.

Here is my heading before applying the style:


Here is the heading after:


I can do the same thing with my subheadings. For those, I will choose Heading 2 as the style.

Subheadings before styles:


Subheadings after styles:


Modify styles

The easiest way to modify a style is to right-click on the style on the ribbon and select Modify.


From there, you can customize any aspect of the style, like font, size, color, spacing, borders, tabs, etc. The modified styles can either be saved just to the current document or to all future documents based on the normal template.

Easy table of contents

If, at a minimum, you have headings set using styles, you can very easily create a table of contents. I have one “Heading 1” and five “Heading 2” set.

  1. Insert a new page at the beginning of the document. With your cursor at the very beginning of the document, click the Page Break icon on the Insert ribbon.
  2. With cursor on the new page (very beginning of the document), go to the References ribbon, click on Tables of Contents, and select one of the automatic options. I selected the first option.
  3. The result shows up immediately. You will notice the Heading 1 is the first item, and the Heading 2s are sub-items below it.

Page numbers are entered automatically and can be updated periodically as the document develops. To update the table of contents for new headings and changes in page numbers:

  1. Click anywhere in the table of contents.
  2. Click the Update Table button that appears above the table.
  3. Choose whether to update the entire table or just the numbers and click OK.
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  1. Word: Styles, part 2 – more on customizing and clearing styles « CPA Tech Tips

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