How to Add and Update Table of Contents in Google Docs

When you’re writing a document in Google Docs, you may want to add a table of contents. Thankfully, a lot of word processors understand the value of automatically-generated tables of contents, and Google Docs is no different. This saves you the effort of manually making your own table by typing in page numbers and chapter names. Fortunately, it’s very simple to create and update a table of contents in Google Docs.

Using Headings

In order to make a table, we need to “tell” Google Docs how to construct it. Google Docs isn’t quite advanced enough to automatically know how to construct a decent table of contents via your writing alone. We need to let it know where our chapters and sub-chapters are so it can properly format its table of contents. This is done by using the “Headings” formatting in a document.

If you click “Normal text” at the top left of a Google Doc, you’ll see a range of options. The ones we’re interested in are the ones that start with “Headings.”


This is what Google Docs will look when generating a table of contents. When making the table Google Docs will put all text that share a heading format on the same level of importance. “Heading 1” is the highest level of heading, “Heading 2” is the second highest, and so on. Any heading used under a heading of higher level will be treated as a subheader. For example, if I put the text “Alpha” in Heading 1 format, “Beta” in Heading 2, and “Charlie” in Heading 3, Google Docs will see “Alpha” as the main header, “Beta” as Alpha’s subheader, and “Charlie” as Beta’s subheader.


Adding and Changing Headings

You can create headings in two ways. You can place your cursor where you want the heading, select it, then type what you want the heading to be. If you’ve already typed the text, you can highlight it and select the heading you want to format the text to.

If you don’t like the formatting Google Docs gives you for a heading, you can change it. Simply format some text in the style you’d like the header to be and highlight it. Click on the “Normal text” box, then the right arrow beside the heading you want to change, then “Update ‘Heading’ to match.”


You can reset heading styles by clicking “Options” and then “Reset styles” instead.


Making a Table of Contents

Once all your headers have been defined, you can tell Google Docs to generate a table of contents. You do this by clicking “Insert,” then “Table of contents”, and then selecting the table you like the looks of.


As you can see here, Google Docs has not only generated a table of contents, but also formatted them based on the headings we used:


This means you should think about how you want to structure your document before using headings. Let’s say we were writing an ebook about computer hardware. Each chapter will cover a different piece of hardware. We can set the chapter titles with Heading 1 (Chapter 1: Processor), then the titles defining each aspect with Heading 2 (Brands), then the details of each aspect with Heading 3 (Intel, AMD). When we generate the table of contents, it will look like this:


Updating the Table of Contents

As you add to and edit the document, you’ll notice that the table of contents isn’t updating itself. Don’t worry – it’s not broken! It just needs to be manually told to update its headings. Once you’re done changing or adding text, there’s two ways to update that table of contents in Google Docs. Either right-click the table of contents and click “Update table of contents” or click the Refresh button beside the table when you click on it.


The table of contents will then “catch up” with what you’ve typed.


If you ever find that a title is too long to fit on a single line in your table of contents, note that you can change the margins of your Google Doc to add more space.

Content with Tables

When you want to make or update a table of contents in Google Docs, you don’t have to do it manually! Just mark out the headings as you see fit, then let Google Docs do all the heavy lifting for you.

Do you use tables of contents in your documents regularly? Let us know below!

Simon Batt
Simon Batt

Simon Batt is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for cybersecurity.

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