Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Problems with TOC Styles.

Problems with TOC Styles

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated April 6, 2024)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


Word allows you to quickly and easily create a table of contents, based upon the headings in your document. Exactly how you do this has been covered in other issues of WordTips, but suffice it to say that you can generate a TOC based upon any headings that are formatted using Word's built-in heading styles—Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. (You can specify differently named styles to be used when generating the TOC, but that is beyond the scope of this tip.)

When the TOC is generated, the styles automatically applied to the TOC entries are TOC 1, TOC 2, etc. There is typically a direct correspondence between the TOC style name and the heading style name. Thus, TOC 1 is used to format the TOC entry generated from a Heading 1 paragraph. Likewise, TOC 2 is used to format a TOC entry generated from a Heading 2 paragraph, and so on.

The bottom line is that if you want to change the way your TOC looks, all you need to do is modify the attributes that make up the TOC styles (TOC 1, TOC 2, etc.). There is one very, very large caveat to this general statement, however: If you have applied explicit formatting to your headings, then your TOC will not look as you expect it to.

For instance, let's say that you define the TOC 1 style so it is 14-point Arial in black type. However, you may have used explicit formatting on a Heading 1 paragraph so that it is red, 16-point type. When you generate your TOC, the explicit formatting you applied affects what appears in your actual TOC. The result is that your TOC entry shows up as red, 16-point text, even though the TOC 1 style doesn't call for that. You can change the TOC styles after generating the TOC, but when you later regenerate, the TOC will again appear messed up.

The only solution to this problem is to make sure that none of your headings use explicit formatting; they should rely only on styles. Select each heading paragraph in your document and press Ctrl+Q (to return the text to the default paragraph settings for the style) and Ctrl+Space Bar (to return the text to the default font settings for the style). When you use these shortcuts, make sure that you select the entire paragraph, including the end-of-paragraph marker. If, after setting the headings back to their defaults in this manner, you don't like the way your headings look, make the changes in the heading styles, not in the headings themselves. Then, when you later generate a TOC, you will get what you want—a TOC that matches the specifications in the TOC styles.

A similar problem often occurs in the course of developing the headings in a document. Let's say that you add a few headings, and you put them in all caps. (After all, you decided up front that you want your headings in all caps.) Then, you discover that you can set the format of the heading styles to be all caps. Now, you can type as you normally would, but Word displays the headings as all caps—just as you want.

When it comes time to create your TOC, Word pulls the text from the headings, and you discover that your TOC entries look terrible. Some Toc Entries Look Like This (title case), OTHERS LIKE THIS (uppercase), and still others like this (lowercase). While the headings all appear in uppercase within the body of the document (because you used the style to force the text to show as uppercase), the actual text within those headings is inconsistent and the inconsistency is apparent when you generate the TOC.

The only way around this problem is to go back and re-enter your headings using the proper case. Normally, this will be what is called title case, which means that major words within the heading are capitalized, but other words are not. When the headings are consistently entered, what you see when you generate a TOC will not be a surprise.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11108) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Problems with TOC Styles.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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