About tables of contents

A table of contents (TOC) can list the contents of a book, magazine, or other publication; display a list of illustrations, advertisers, or photo credits; or include other information to help readers find information in a document or book file. One document may contain multiple tables of contents—for example, a list of chapters and a list of illustrations.

Each table of contents is a separate story consisting of a heading and a list of entries sorted either by page number or alphabetically. Entries, including page numbers, are pulled directly from content in your document and can be updated at any time—even across multiple documents in a book file.

The process for creating a table of contents requires three main steps. First, create and apply the paragraph styles you’ll use as the basis for the TOC. Second, specify which styles are used in the TOC and how the TOC is formatted. Third, flow the TOC into your document.

Table of contents entries can be automatically added to the Bookmarks panel for use in documents exported as Adobe PDF.

Tips for planning a table of contents

Consider the following when planning a table of contents:

  • Some tables of contents are built from content that does not actually appear in the published document, such as a list of advertisers in a magazine. To do this in InDesign, enter content on a hidden layer and include it when generating a TOC.

  • You can load TOC styles from other documents or books to build new tables of contents with the same settings and formatting. (You might need to edit an imported TOC style if the names of paragraph styles in the document do not match those in the source document.)

  • You can create paragraph styles for the table of contents’ title and entries, including tab stops and leaders, if desired. You can then apply these paragraph styles when you generate the table of contents.

  • You can create character styles to format the page numbers and the characters separating them from the entries. For example, if you want the page numbers to be in bold, create a character style that includes the bold attribute, and then select that character style when you create the table of contents.

Create tables of contents in books

For best results, be sure to do the following before creating a table of contents for a book:

  • Before you create a table of contents, verify that the book list is complete, that all documents are listed in the correct order, and that all headings have been formatted with the appropriate paragraph styles.

  • Be sure to use paragraph styles consistently throughout the book. Avoid creating documents with styles that have identical names but different definitions. If multiple styles have the same name but different style definitions, InDesign uses the style definition in the current document (if a definition exists there), or the first occurrence of the style in the book.

  • If the necessary styles do not appear in the pop‑up menus in the Table of Contents dialog box, you may need to synchronize the book so that the styles are copied to the document containing the table of contents.

  • If you want number prefixes (such as 1-1, 1-3, and so on) to appear in your table of contents, use section numbering rather than chapter numbering. Section number prefixes can be included in a table of contents.

Generate a table of contents

Before you generate a table of contents, decide which paragraphs should be included (such as chapter titles and section headings), and then define paragraph styles for each. Make sure that these styles are applied to all appropriate paragraphs in the document or booked documents.

When you generate the table of contents, you can also use paragraph and character styles to format the table of contents.

Generate a table of contents
Table of contents without paragraph styles (left) and with paragraph styles applied to entries (right)

If paragraphs that are to be included in the table of contents appear in different stories on the same page, their order in the TOC is determined by their position on the page.

  1. Do one of the following:
    • If you’re creating a table of contents for a single document, you may want to add a new page at the beginning of the document.

    • If you’re creating a table of contents for multiple documents in a book, create or open the document to be used for the table of contents, make sure that it’s included in the book, and then open the book file.

  2. Choose Layout > Table Of Contents.

    If you’ve defined a TOC style that has the appropriate settings for your TOC, you can choose it from the TOC Style menu.

  3. In the Title box, type a title for your TOC (such as Contents or List of Figures). This title will appear at the top of the table of contents. To format the title, choose a style from the Style menu.
  4. Select Include Book Documents to create a single table of contents for all documents in the book list, and to renumber the book’s pages. Deselect this option if you want to generate a table of contents for the current document only. (This option is dimmed if the current document is not part of a book file.)
  5. Determine which content you want to include in the table of contents by double-clicking paragraph styles in the Other Styles list to add them to the Include Paragraph Styles list.
  6. Select Replace Existing Table Of Contents to replace all existing table of contents stories in the document. Deselect this option if you want to generate a new table of contents, such as a list of figures.
  7. Specify options to determine how each paragraph style in the table of contents is formatted.

    Note:

    It’s a good idea to define a TOC style that contains the formatting and other options for your table of contents, especially if you want to include multiple TOCs in your document. To do so, click Save Style. You can also create TOC styles by choosing Layout > Table Of Contents Styles.

  8. Click OK.

    A loaded text cursor  appears. Before you click or drag, you can move to a different page or create a new page without losing the loaded text.

  9. Click or drag the loaded text cursor on a page to place the new table of contents story.

Note:

Avoid threading the TOC frame to other text frames in the document. If you replace the existing TOC, the entire story will be replaced by the updated TOC.

Create TOC styles for multiple lists

Use TOC styles if you need to create different tables of contents in your document or book. For example, you can use one TOC style for a list of contents and another for a list of advertisers, illustrations, or photo credits. Create a TOC style for each type of list.

Creating TOC styles are also useful if you want to use the same TOC formatting in another document.

Note:

Don’t confuse TOC styles with paragraph styles that have a “TOC” prefix. TOC-prefixed paragraph styles (for example “TOC title”) are used to format the table of contents entries themselves. In contrast, a TOC style is a collection of settings used to automatically create a table of contents.

Create a TOC style

  1. Choose Layout > Table Of Contents Styles.
  2. Click New.
  3. Type a name for the TOC style you are creating.
  4. In the Title box, type a title for your TOC (such as Contents or List of Figures). This title will appear at the top of the table of contents. To specify a title style, choose a style from the Style menu.
  5. From the Other Styles list, select the paragraph styles that represent content you want to include in the table of contents, then click Add to add them to the Include Paragraph Styles list.
  6. Specify options to determine how each paragraph style is formatted.

Import TOC styles from another document

  1. Choose Layout > Table Of Contents Styles.
  2. Click Load, select the InDesign file containing the TOC styles you want to copy, and then click Open.
  3. Click OK.

Note:

If the paragraph styles in your document do not match the paragraph styles in the TOC style you import, you’ll need to edit the TOC style before generating a table of contents.

Options for formatting a table of contents

When generating or editing a table of contents, use these options to determine the appearance of the generated table of contents text. Some of these options are available only when you click More Options in the dialog box.

Note:

The settings in the Style section apply only to the style currently selected under Include Paragraph Styles. You can specify different formatting options for each style.

Entry Style

For each style in Include Paragraph Styles, choose a paragraph style to apply to the associated table of contents entries.

Page Number

You might want to create a character style that formats the page number. You can then select this style in the Style pop‑up list to the right of Page Number. (See Add paragraph and character styles.)

If you want the page numbers of the TOC to include prefixes, or to use a different numbering convention, see Define section numbering.

Between Entry And Number Specify which characters you want between the table of contents entry and its page number. The default is ^t, which tells InDesign to insert a tab. You can choose other special characters, such as Right Indent Tab or Em Space, in the pop‑up list.

Note:

Select the existing text in the box before you choose a different special character, to make sure that you don’t include both characters.

You might want to create a character style that formats the space between the entry and the page number. You can then select this style in the Style pop‑up list to the right of Between Entry And Number. (See Add paragraph and character styles.)

If the entry’s paragraph style includes a tab leader setting, and if the tab character (^t) is selected, a tab leader appears in the generated table of contents.

Table of contents formatting options
You can specify a character that separates an entry and page number, as well as a style to apply to a character.

Sort Entries in Alphabetical Order

Select this option to sort table of contents entries in the selected style alphabetically. This option is useful for creating simple lists, such as lists of advertisers. Nested entries (Level 2 or 3) sort alphabetically within their group (Level 1 or 2, respectively).

Note:

The sort order for a table of contents is determined by the document’s default language setting. To change the default language setting, make sure nothing is selected and then choose a language from the Language menu in the Character panel.

Level

By default, each item added to the Include Paragraph Styles box is set one level lower than the item immediately above it. You can change this hierarchy by specifying a new level number for the selected paragraph style. This option adjusts only the display in the dialog box. It has no effect on the final table of contents unless the list is alphabetized, in which case the entries are sorted by level.

Create PDF Bookmarks

Select this option if you want the table of contents entries to appear in the Bookmarks panel of Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader® when the document is exported to PDF.

Run-in

Select this option if you want all TOC entries to be run into a single paragraph. A semicolon followed by a space (; ) separates the entries.

Include Text On Hidden Layers

Select this option only if you want the paragraphs on hidden layers to be included in your table of contents. This is useful when creating a list of advertisers or illustrations that may not appear as visible text in the document itself. Deselect this option when you’ve used layers to store various versions or translations of the same text.

Numbered Paragraphs

If your table of contents includes a paragraph style that uses numbering, specify whether the TOC entry includes the full paragraph (both number and text), only the numbers, or only the paragraph.

Frame Orientation

Specify the writing direction for the text frame you will use to create a table of contents.

Create TOC entries with tab leaders

Entries in a table of contents are often formatted with dots or tab leaders separating the entry from its associated page number.

Table of contents with dot leaders
Table of contents with dot leaders

  1. Create a paragraph style with a tab leader.

  2. To update the table of contents settings, do one of the following:
    • Choose Layout > Table Of Contents Style. Select a TOC style, and click Edit.

    • Choose Layout > Table Of Contents (if you are not using a TOC style).

  3. Under Include Paragraph Styles, select an item you want to appear with a tab leader in the table of contents.
  4. For Entry Style, select the paragraph style that contains the tab leader.
  5. Click More Options.
  6. Verify that Between Entry And Number is set to ^t (representing a tab). Click OK or Save to exit.
  7. Update the table of contents, if necessary, by choosing Layout > Update Table Of Contents. Otherwise, place the new table of contents story.

Create a paragraph style with a tab leader

  1. Choose Window > Styles > Paragraph Styles to display the Paragraph Styles panel.
  2. In the Paragraph Styles panel, do one of the following:
    • Double-click the name of the paragraph style applied to entries in your table of contents.

    • From the panel menu, choose New Paragraph Style.

  3. Enter a name, if necessary, for the paragraph style.
  4. Click Tabs.
  5. Select the right-justified tab icon , and then click on the ruler to position the tab stop.

    If the paragraphs you’re applying the style to include numbered list items, make sure that you include two tab settings — the first for the indented number and the second for the tab leader.

  6. For Leader, type a period (.).
  7. Select other style options as desired, and click OK.

Update and edit a table of contents

The table of contents is like a snapshot of content in your document. If page numbers in your document change, or if you edit headings or other elements associated with table of contents entries, you’ll need to regenerate the table of contents to update it.

Update a table of contents

  1. Open the document containing the table of contents.
  2. Do any of the following:
    • To make changes to table of contents entries, edit your document or booked documents, not the table of contents story itself.

    • To change the formatting applied to the table of contents title, entries, or page numbers, edit the paragraph or character styles associated with these elements.

    • To change how pages are numbered (for example, 1, 2, 3 or i, ii, iii), change section numbering in the document or book. (See Number pages, chapters, and paragraphs in a book.)

    • To specify a new title, include other paragraph styles in the table of contents, or further format table of contents entries, edit the TOC style.

  3. Select or place the insertion point in the text frame containing the table of contents, and then choose Layout > Update Table Of Contents.
  4. If you have multiple tables of contents in your document, such as a list of figures and a list of advertisers, select the text frame containing a different list, and then choose Layout > Update Table Of Contents.

Editing a table of contents

If your table of contents requires editing, edit the actual paragraphs in the document—not the table of contents story—and then generate a new table of contents. If you edit the table of contents story, you’ll lose your revisions when you generate a new table of contents. For the same reason, you should edit the styles used to format the table of contents entries, rather than formatting the table of contents directly.

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