Table of Contents

A guide to the table of contents page

Definition: Table of contents

The table of contents is an organized listing of your document’s chapters, sections and, often, figures, clearly labelled by page number. Readers should be able to look at your table of contents page and understand immediately how your paper is organized, enabling them to skip to any relevant section or sub-section. The table of contents should list all front matter, main content and back matter, including the headings and page numbers of all chapters and the bibliography. A good table of contents should be easy to read, accurately formatted and completed last so that it is 100% accurate. Although you can complete a table of contents manually, many word processing tools like Microsoft Word enable you to format your table of contents automatically.

When adding the finishing touches to your dissertation, the table of contents is one of the most crucial elements. It helps the reader navigate (like a map) through your argument and topic points. Adding a table of contents is simple and it can be inserted easily after you have finished writing your paper. In this guide, we look at the do’s and don’ts of a table of contents; this will help you process and format your dissertation in a professional way.

Table of contents

When adding the finishing touches to your dissertation, the table of contents is one of the most crucial elements. It helps navigate the reader (like a map) through your argument and topic points. Adding a table of contents is simple and can be inserted easily after you have finished writing your paper. In this guide, we look at the do’s and don’ts of a table of contents; this will help you process and format your dissertation in a professional way.

The table of contents for a Bachelor’s and a Master’s thesis

A table of contents is a crucial component of an academic thesis. Whether you’re completing a Bachelor’s or a postgraduate degree, the table of contents is a requirement for dissertation submissions. As a rule of thumb, your table of contents will usually come after your title page, abstract, acknowledgement or preface. Although it’s not necessary to include a reference to this front matter in your table of contents, different universities have different policies and guidelines.

Although the table of contents is best completed after you have finished your thesis, it’s a good idea to draw up a mock table of contents in the early stages of writing. This allows you to formulate a structure and think through your topic and how you are going to research, answer and make your argument. Think of this as a form of “reverse engineering”. Knowing how your chapters are going to be ordered and what topics or research questions are included in each will help immensely when it comes to your writing.

The table of contents is not just an academic formality, it allows your examiner to quickly get a feel for your topic and understand how your dissertation will be presented. An unclear or sloppy table of contents may even have an adverse effect on your grade because the dissertation is difficult to follow.

Examiners are readers, after all, and a dissertation is an exercise in producing an argument. A clear table of contents will give both a good impression and provide an accurate roadmap to make the examiner’s job easier and your argument more persuasive.

Table of contents examples

Your table of contents section will come after your acknowledgements and before your introduction. It includes a list of all your headers and their respective pages and will also contain a sub-section listing your tables, figures or illustrations (if you are using them). In general, your thesis can be ordered like this:

1. Title Page
2. Copyright / Statement of Originality
3. Abstract
4. Acknowledgement, Dedication and Preface (optional)
5. Table of Contents
6. List of Figures/Tables/Illustrations
7. Chapters
8. Appendices
9. Endnotes (depending on your formatting)
10. Bibliography / References

The formatting of your table of contents will depend on your academic field and thesis length. Some disciplines, like the sciences, have a methodical structure which includes recommended subheadings on methodology, data results, discussion and conclusion. Humanities subjects, on the other hand, are far more varied. Whichever discipline you are working in, you need to create an organized list of all chapters in their order of appearance, with chapter subheadings clearly labelled.

Sample table of contents for a short dissertation:

Abstract ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. ii
Acknowledgements ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. iii
Dedication ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. iv
List of Tables ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. x
List of Figures ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. xi
Chapter 1: Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1
Chapter 2: Literature Survey ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 13
Chapter 3: Methodology ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 42
Chapter 4: Analysis ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 100
Chapter 5: Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 129
Appendices ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 169
References ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 172

When producing a more significant and longer dissertation, say for a Master’s degree or even a PhD, your chapter descriptions should contain all subheadings. These are listed with the chapter number, followed by a decimal point and the subheading number.

Sample table of contents for a PhD dissertation:

Chapter 1
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Literature Review
1.3 Data
1.4 Findings
1.5 Conclusion

Chapter 2, and so on.

The key to writing a good table of contents is consistency and accuracy. You cannot list subheadings for one chapter and forget them for another. Subheadings are not always required but they can be very helpful if you are dealing with a detailed topic. The page numbers in the table of contents must match with the respective pages in your thesis or manuscript.

What’s more, chapter titles and subheading titles must match their corresponding pages. If your first chapter is called “Chapter 1: The Beginning”, it must be written as such on both the table of contents and first chapter page. So long as you remain both accurate and consistent, your table of contents will be perfect.

How to create a table of contents in Microsoft Word

Fortunately, the days of manually writing a contents page are over. You can still produce a contents page manually with Microsoft Word, but consider using their automatic feature to guarantee accuracy and save time.

To produce an automatically-generated table of contents, you must first work with heading styles. These can be found in the home tab under “Styles”. Select top-level headings (your chapter titles) and apply the Heading 1 style. This ensures that they will be formatted as main headings. Second-level headings (subheadings) can be applied with the Heading 2 style. This will place them underneath and within each main heading.

Once you have worked with heading styles, simply click on the “References” tab and select “Table of Contents”. This option will allow you to automatically produce a page with accurate page links to your document. To customize the format and style applied to your table of contents, select “Custom Table of Contents” at the bottom of the tab. Remember to update your table of contents by selecting the table and choosing “Update” from the drop-down menu. This will ensure that your headings, sub-headings and page numbers all add up.

Table of contents in a nutshell

  • The table of contents is a vital part of any academic thesis or extensive paper.
  • It is an accurate map of your manuscript’s content – its headings, sub-headings and page numbers.
  • It shows how you have divided your thesis into more manageable chunks through the use of chapters.
  • By breaking apart your thesis into discrete sections, you make your argument both more persuasive and easier to follow.
  • What’s more, your contents page should produce an accurate map of your thesis’ references, bibliography, illustrations and figures.
  • It is an accurate map of the chapters, references, bibliography, illustrations and figures in your thesis.
Excellent.org
We use cookies to make our website better for you and to improve it continuously.
By continuing to use the website, you agree to our use of cookies. For more information about cookies, please visit our Data protection. OK