How to format a table of contents in a Word document

Word’s table of contents, by default, has no formatting. You can add formatting directly, but you’ll have to reapply it every time you update the table. Instead, learn how to modify the table’s underlying styles.


Image: Ahlapot, Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you’re working on a document that requires a table of contents, Microsoft Word has an easy-to-implement feature based on built-in heading styles. Word uses Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on to build a table of contents; however, the resulting table of contents by default is almost devoid of formatting–it’s downright bland. I’ll show you how to modify the table of contents styles–specifically, we’ll add a bit of color, but you could apply a number of formats.

I’m using Office 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but you can use earlier versions of Word. You can work with your own document or download the demonstration .docx and .doc files. The browser edition will display an existing table of contents and even let you update it, but you can’t add a table of contents or modify a style.

LEARN MORE: Office 365 Consumer pricing and features

Word’s default table of contents

You might expect heading styles used in your Word document to persist in a table of contents, but that’s not how it works; while this behavior might seem odd at first, it’s by design. As a general rule, a table of contents is fairly bland. The table of contents will not have the same formatting as the heading styles.

Figure A shows a simple table of contents with three heading levels: Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3. All three styles are blue—a font format. I added a direct color format, red, to one Heading 2 instance to be comprehensive. (If you’re using a theme, blue might not be the predominant color.)

Figure A


The table of contents isn’t blue even though the built-in heading styles are.

Word doesn’t use the heading styles…