How to Create Best Table of Contents for Dissertation

How to Create Best Table of Contents for Dissertation


Table of contents are an essential part of any article, book, proceedings, report and for any paper that has plenty of information and requires to provide the reader with guidance about the availability of the content. Similarly, when preparing a dissertation, you may cram as much information into it as appropriate and the dissertation may be an extremely well written one with a lot of valuable information to offer, but it is of no use if the reader cannot easily find the information. The length of dissertations usually varies from a few pages to a few hundred pages, which makes it very difficult to find information that you may be after. Instead of skimming through each and every page of the dissertation, there is need for a guideline that directs the reader to the correct section of the dissertation and more importantly the correct page in the section.

Table of contents is the section of a dissertation that provides guidance about the contents of each section of the dissertation paper. Depending on the level of detail in a table of contents, the most useful headings are listed in order to provide the reader with a reference of which page the said information may be found at. The table of contents is essentially a list that is found at the beginning of a dissertation, which contains names of the chapters, section titles and/or very brief descriptions along with page numbers indicated for each. This allows the reader to consult the table of contents to be able to locate the information that is needed from the dissertation. Having an effective table of contents is key to providing a seamless reading experience to the reader. This article helps the readers on how to create the best table of contents for dissertation. An important thing to note is that the article shares the creation of table of contents in word 2013. The procedure may slightly differ for other versions of Microsoft Word.

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Using Styles

Making of an effective table of contents starts by identifying headings and designating styles to those headings. Using heading styles to format your headings can not only save a lot of time by automatically converting their formatting to the defined style, but also serves as identifying the heading and its level, to be used later when creating a thesis table of contents. Each heading style already has predefined sizes, fonts, colors, spacing, etc. but can be changed as per the user’s requirements (Anon., 2017). This also helps once all headings have been created and you intend to change the style of a certain type of heading. All that is needed to change the style of a type of a heading, and it is automatically reflected on all headings that use the style.

Below is how the styles menu looks,

Styles Menu

In order to allocate a style to a heading, first select a heading, and then click on one of the styles in the ‘Styles’ menu. Doing so converts the selected heading to the style that is selected in the Styles menu. You can style similar level of headings in the same style by selecting each heading and then clicking on the style in the Style menu. It is important to note that it greatly helps and saves time if you allocate styles to heading in a systematic manner, i.e. you allocate the style as you write. The styles are not limited to headings only, but can be used for paragraphs as well, by selecting the whole paragraph and applying a style to it.

Changing Appearance of Pre-Defined Styles

In order to change the appearance of a style to one that suits you,

  1. You would need to right click on one of the styles to open a drop down menu.

How to Create a Word Table of Contents

  1. Select ‘Modify’ from the menu. This would display a window with various formatting and appearance options. You can select the most appropriate ones and click ‘OK’. The change that you made to the style reflects on all headings or paragraphs that use this style.

How to Create a Table of Contents for Dissertation

There are further changes that can be made to headings but using styles is an important step for creating table of contents for thesis. Once this step is completed, you can continue to creating a thesis table of contents.

Considerations for Making APA Style Table of Contents

  1. The pages before the body of the dissertation, known as the ‘Prefatory Pages’, should not have page numbers on them but should be numbered in the Roman Numerals instead as (i, ii, iii…).
  2. Table of Contents and the Abstract pages are not to contain any numbers.
  3. The remaining pages would carry the standard page numbers (1,2,3…).
  4. The Section titles and page numbers in the dissertation table of contents should have dotted lines between them.
  5. All the Prefatory pages, Sections, Chapter Titles, Headings, Sub Headings, Reference Sections and Appendices should be listed in the thesis table of contents. If there are limited number of Tables or Figures, they may be listed in the table contents for dissertation.
  6. If there are many figures, tables, symbols or abbreviations, List of Tables, List of Figures, List of Symbols and List of Abbreviations should be made for ease of navigation. These lists however, should not be listed in the thesis table of contents.
  7. The thesis/dissertation must be divided into sections even if it is not divided into chapters, with all sections being listed in the table of contents for thesis. (Anon., 2017).

Generating Dissertation Table of Contents

To generate the Table of Contents, first start by entering a blank page after the pages that you need the table of contents to follow.

  1. To do so, click on the bottom of the page you want before the Table of Contents.
  2. Open the ‘Insert’ tab and select ‘Page Break’.
  3. This will create a page between the top section and the bottom section of the Table of Contents area.

How to Create a Table of Contents for Dissertation

By the time you reach this section, you would have given each heading or sub-heading a dedicated style, which would distinguish between different types of headings. Microsoft Word 2013 can generate Table of Contents automatically, but the document, particularly the headings would need to be formatted according to styles for this feature to work. You can assign different levels of headings, different styles in order for Microsoft Word to recognize the level of heading.

How to Insert Table of Contents

  1. Place the cursor where you want to place the Table of Contents, on the page that you added earlier.
  2. On the ‘References’ tab, open the Table of Contents group. This would open a list of different Table of Contents designs and a table of contents sample.

How to Create a Table of Contents for Dissertation

  1. You can select an option from the available Table of Contents or make a Custom Table of Contents. Although the available Table of Contents samples are appropriate to be used, you may use a custom table of contents if it is more suitable to your needs. This allows you to modify different formatting options for the Table of Contents to satisfy your own requirement.

How to Create a Table of Contents for Dissertation

Updating the Table of Contents

As you proceed with editing your dissertation, the changes cause the page numbers and headings to vary. Often times, people fail to incorporate those changes into the Table of Contents, which then effectively serves as an incorrect table and causes confusion. It is thus important to update the changes into the table of contents as final step, once you have made all the necessary changes in the dissertation and you are ready to print it. These changes may alter the length of the thesis table of contents, which may in turn also cause the formatting of the dissertation to be altered a little, so it is best to reformat it after updating the table of contents.

In order to update the table of contents,

  1. Select ‘Update Table’ in References tab.
  2. This would open a dialog box. Select ‘Update Entire Table’ to ensure that all changes are reflected in the table of contents and not just the page numbers. This would display all changes and additions that you have made to the document (Anon., 2017).


Using this article, you should be able to understand how to create the best table of contents for dissertation. The use of Table of Contents while being important for most written work, is very important for dissertations, especially, when the proper methodology of creating the table of contents is followed. This includes the considerations that must be especially followed to correctly format the table of contents so that it may be shaped in a way that it follows the norms and is effective at helping the reader navigate through the content of the dissertation. The use of Microsoft Word’s Table of Contents generation feature has greatly helped people from all over the world to create, edit and update the table of contents of their dissertations with ease.

Review Our Best Dissertation Topics 2018-19 complete list.


  • Anon., 2017. East Carolina University. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/writing/wac/upload/How-to-Make-a-Table-of-Contents.pdf
    [Accessed 11 April 2017].
  • Anon., 2017. The University of Kansas. [Online]
    Available at: http://guides.lib.ku.edu/ld.php?content_id=3341820
    [Accessed 11 April 2017].
  • Anon., 2017. Thesis and Dissertation Template Guide. [Online]
    Available at: https://ou.edu/content/dam/gradweb/documents/Forms_and_packets/ThesisAndDissertationTemplateGuide.pdf

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