Accessibility Tip of the Week: Creating a Table of Contents in your Documents

Stack of binders

This week Robert Hardy, our district website accessibility specialist, shares about using true headings to create a table of contents. Please call Robert with any accessibility questions at Ext. 6105. He is more than happy to talk by phone or schedule a time to meet with you.

True headings are an essential aspect of accessible document design, allowing screen reader users to skim a document. Beyond enhancing accessibility, true headings also enable authors to insert an interactive, accurate and professional table of contents within their documents, creating a better user experience for every reader.

To insert a table of contents, authors must first use heading styles within their document. More information on using true headings can be found on the district’s Website Accessibility Resources page, but basically, you’ll want to highlight section titles and select the appropriate heading type from the top menu.

In Microsoft Word, heading styles may be located within the Home ribbon.

Microsoft Word screenshot. The Home ribbon is selected and the Heading styles menu is shown.

In Google Docs, heading styles may be located in the top menu bar.

Google Docs screenshot. The Heading menu is highlighted in the top menu.

Headings should not be used consecutively, but rather, should be nested within one another. For instance, a document title would be marked as a Heading 1, chapter titles would be marked as Heading 2 and subchapters would be marked as Heading 3.

Once headings have been used, inserting a table of contents is straightforward, both in Microsoft Word and in Google Docs.

Microsoft Word

  1. Place the cursor where you would like the table of contents to appear.
  2. Select the ‘References’ ribbon.
  3. Select ‘Table of Contents’ and pick a style of table of contents.

Customizing the table of contents

Tables of contents within Microsoft Word can be heavily customized, allowing for certain heading levels to be excluded, or specific styling to be applied. To add a customized table of contents, select ‘Custom Table of Contents’ from the Table of Contents menu (step 3 above).

Updating page numbers

If the document continues to be edited after inserting a table of contents, the page numbers within the table of contents may need to be updated. To do so, simply right-click the table of contents, select ‘Update Field’ and then select ‘Update page numbers only.’

Google Docs

  1. Place the cursor where you would like the table of contents to appear.
  2. Select ‘Insert’ from the top menu.
  3. Select ‘Table of Contents,’ and then pick from the available styles.

Customizing the table of contents

Unlike in Word, there are limited pre-built customizations available, but the table of contents can be edited like other text.

Updating page numbers

Like in Word, page numbers within the table of contents may need to be updated if the document is heavily edited. To update the page numbers, right-click the table of contents and select ‘Update table of contents.’

This added benefit of true headings is yet another example of how accessible design is truly universal design. By improving design for a portion of our audience, we inevitably improve it for everyone.

As always, if you have questions about true headings, or accessibility in general, please feel free to reach out to Robert Hardy (x6105), the district’s website accessibility specialist.