Incomplete Table of Contents

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated May 18, 2024)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


Victor used Word to create a book about his family. He wants to add a table of contents near the beginning of the document, but he can't get the table to include all the headings in the book. He wonders if there is something he's missing in creating the table of contents.

Before jumping into why some headings may not be included in the table of contents (TOC), let's very quickly go through the steps for how a TOC is added to a document. In the latest versions of Word, the steps are quite easy:

  1. Position the insertion point where you want the TOC inserted.
  2. Display the References tab of the ribbon.
  3. Click Table of Contents in the Table of Contents group. Word displays a drop-down list of TOC options.
  4. Choose one of the automatic, built-in options for a TOC.

If you are using an older version of Word, then the steps are a bit different. These are the steps for Word 2016, but should be very similar to those for even older versions:

  1. Position the insertion point where you want the TOC inserted.
  2. Display the References tab of the ribbon.
  3. Click Table of Contents in the Table of Contents group. Word displays a few options.
  4. Click Insert Table of Contents. Word displays the Table of Contents tab of the Table of Contents dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  5. Figure 1. The Table of Contents tab of the Table of Contents dialog box.

  6. Make sure that the Formats drop-down list is set to From Template.
  7. Click on OK.

That's it; the TOC is inserted in your document. Now, as to why some headings may not be in your table of contents. There are several possible reasons.

The first thing to check is how many heading levels you are using. Remember that there is a correlation between heading levels (using styles Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.) and table of contents entries (using styles TOC 1, TOC 2, TOC 3, etc.). By default, any TOC created by Word only pays attention to the first three heading levels. If you are using a deeper heading structure (perhaps including Heading 4 and Heading 5), then you need to create your TOC using a bit different approach. If you are using Word 2016 or older, follow the appropriate steps already mentioned, but before you click on OK (step 6), use the Show Levels control to specify how many heading levels you want included in the TOC.

If you are using the latest versions of Word, then you'll need to go through a bit of different process for your TOC:

  1. Position the insertion point where you want the TOC inserted.
  2. Display the References tab of the ribbon.
  3. Click Table of Contents in the Table of Contents group. Word displays a drop-down list of TOC options.
  4. Choose Custom Table of Contents. Word displays the Table of Contents tab of the Table of Contents dialog box. (This is the same dialog box shown above, in the Word 2016 steps.)
  5. Make sure that the Formats drop-down list is set to From Template.
  6. Using the Show Levels control, specify how many heading levels should be included in the TOC.
  7. Click on OK.

Another thing to check is the formatting actually used for the headings. Since Word builds the table of contents based on heading styles, if there is a heading that is manually formatted but doesn't actually use a heading style, it won't appear in the table of contents. You can check this by figuring out which heading is missing from your TOC. Then, find that heading in your document and select it. Make sure it is formatted using a heading style—Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc. Then, update your table of contents and it should be included.

Speaking of updating, that brings up another common reason for a heading not being in a TOC—the heading was added after the TOC was last updated. The easiest way to update the TOC is to right-click any entry within it and, from the resulting Context menu, choose Update Field. (A table of contents is generated in Word through the use of a field. Update the field, and you update the TOC.) You can also, if desired, display the References tab of the ribbon and, within the Table of Contents group, click the Update Table option.

Finally, check to see if your missing TOC headings are located within a table or a text box. In older versions of Word (say, 2016 or earlier) such headings are not included in the TOC. In the latest versions of Word this should not be an issue as all headings—including those in tables and text boxes—are reflected in the TOC.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13924) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021.

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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