Mar 172014

Previously, I have explained the importance of developing headings and consistent contents pages to assist in writing longer pieces of work. In this post, I will explain how to go about doing this, using Microsoft Word 2007, to automatically generate a contents page. But the same can be achieved using later versions of word such as Word 2010, or Word 2013.

The first step in generating automatic contents pages is to become familiar with the ribbon at the top of the page. Under the home tab, on the right hand half of the ribbon, you will see a selection of options for text, including Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3 and Title.

Contents Page Headings

Reserve Heading 1 for the names of your chapters as it is much easier to generate an automatic contents page with Heading 1 than it is for the Title setting. Experiment with the characteristics you like and keep them consistent throughout your work.

One you have the layout of the headings that you are happy with, click on the references tab. On the far left of the ribbon, you will see the ‘Table of Contents’ icon. Click the icon and a drop down menu will become available. Choose the layout you prefer. A Table of Contents will automatically be generated, and displayed according to your selection of Headings in the document.

Contents Pages Headings

If you have forgotten something, and add headings later, click anywhere in the table of contents, and click “update table”. This is particularly handy when you are merging multi-chapter documents, and making sure that the formatting of a large manuscript is consistent:

Contents Pages Headings

Any updated or new headings in the document will now be added into the contents page:

Contents Pages Headings

And it really is as simple as that.

Perfect for developing contents pages for reports, theses and other documents which require headings.

Feb 262014
My Thesis Contents Page
My Thesis Contents Page

A frequent problem a student encounters when beginning to write longer assessments and more detailed written tasks is the incorrect use of contents pages and headings.

This is of particular importance for those students who want to go on to complete a thesis or further study. It is also an important skill to learn for professional writing purposes.

Your thesis or report will require a contents page, and will most likely contain several chapters – which will also require multiple sub-headings to be organised and arranged.

Anything else you are likely to write for professional purposes will also require headings. Government reports, progress reports, grant applications and acquittals will require reports with headings.

So, how do you write appropriate headings and a contents page?

The first step is to have consistency.

Having the same colour is a must. Use font size to denote importance. The larger the font size, the more important it is etc etc.

I find using sticky notes (on top of my computer) to keep track of heading sizes and formats will help keep my headings consistent.

By keeping heading sizes, fonts, colours, etc consistent you can automatically generate a contents page in Word, for longer pieces of written work. If it has been done correctly, the layout of the contents page will reflect the importance of the headings within the body of the work.

Also, make sure you have numbers attached to your headings. Organise the decimal number under the main headings. For example: 4.0 Nutrient Pollution, 4.1 Nitrogen etc etc. By doing this, the headings will be divided into chapters, so that the reader knows exactly where they are when they turn to a section of the work.

Headings also help you organise your writing.

Those students that have had structural problems with their writing would do well to spend some time looking at writing headings before writing their assessment in full.

Headings can help you avoid the fear of the blank page.

Brainstorming your heading ideas in the structure you think (or know) is correct, and then fill in the gaps from there. This also helps when you have writer’s block, as you can always write on some topic – you don’t need the previous section to be finished before you write another section. “Chunking” is something that will get you through writing larger pieces.

It is much easier to write topic sentences when you know what headings or role that paragraph will play in your work.

Over writing headings is a problem.

If I am writing on say the Darwin Harbour, I don’t need a heading for every paragraph – unless that is specifically my area of focus. For example, unless my actual topic is on tides, I don’t need a new heading for low and high tides. I would explain them under tides as a general heading.

It’s the same in most pieces of writing.

My rule of thumb is that headings should include a section that contains a: thesis, antithesis and synthesis style (or something similar). For instance, I don’t need a heading for grounded theory; a heading for critique of grounded theory and; a heading for conclusion of grounded theory. It should flow intuitively.

If you have any thoughts on writing good contents pages, ways to use headings, or another related topic, feel free to provide comments below.