How to Create an APA Table of Contents | Format & Examples

This article reflects the APA 7th edition guidelines. Click here for APA 6th edition guidelines.

A table of contents is not required in an APA Style paper, but if you include one, follow these guidelines:

  • Include all level 1 and level 2 headings (other levels are optional).
  • Indicate different heading levels with indents. Adhere to general APA format in terms of font, spacing, etc.

You can automatically create the table of contents by applying APA heading styles in Word.

APA format guidelines for the table of contents

In a thesis or dissertation, the table of contents comes between your abstract and your introduction. It should be written in the same font and size as the rest of your text (usually 12 pt Times New Roman). At the top of the page, write Contents, centered and in bold.

In APA Style, you can use up to five levels of heading, each with its own formatting style. In the table of contents, you should include all level 1 and 2 headings, left-aligned and formatted as plain text. Level 2 headings are indented.

Including lower-level headings in the table of contents is optional. Add an additional indent for each level. If you have a lot of headings in your text, you may not be able to include them all—your table of contents should not be more than two pages long in total.

APA table of contents

How to generate a table of contents in Word

To automatically generate a table of contents in Word, you’ll first have to apply heading styles throughout your text. After that, you can generate the table of contents.

Applying heading styles

First, go through your text making sure that each level of heading is in keeping with APA Style rules.

Next, update the heading styles listed in the Home tab at the top:

  1. Highlight a level 1 heading
  2. Right-click the Heading 1 style and select Update Heading 1 to match selection
  3. Do the same for each level of heading

Applying APA heading styles in Word

Once you’ve done this you can update any other headings quickly using the heading styles. Make sure all headings are in the appropriate style before proceeding.

Generating the table of contents

Now you can generate your table of contents. First write the title “Contents” (in the style of a level 1 heading). Then place your cursor two lines below this and go to the References tab.

Click on Table of Contents and select Custom Table of Contents… In the popup window, select how many levels of heading you wish to include (at least two) under Show levels, then click OK:

Table of contents

Updating your table of contents

Now you have a table of contents based on your current headings and page numbers. If you continue working on your text after this, be sure to go back and update your table of contents at the end, as headings and page numbers might change.

You can do this by right-clicking on the table of contents and selecting Update Field. Then you can choose whether to update all information or just the page numbers. It’s best to update everything, just to be sure.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr and reads a lot of books in his spare time.


Donis Edwards
December 4, 2021 at 9:57 PM

Thank you for this very helpful information. My question is should the generated table of contents be bold font?


Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
December 6, 2021 at 3:26 PM

Hi Donis,

No, the table of contents itself shouldn’t be in bold font, but the heading “Contents” should be.


September 5, 2021 at 1:29 AM

Excellent overview and examples. The animated screens really helped too. Thank you!

One question: are there sections of the paper that should NOT be included in the Table of Contents? I noticed that when I first generated it, the Contents included my cover page and the title of the paper again from the first page of actual content. I went back and removed the heading formats from those and just reformatted them manually. Are there other sections that should apply to?

Thanks again!


Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
September 6, 2021 at 12:52 PM

Hi Malik,

You're right that the cover page and paper title shouldn't be included in the table of contents. Other parts to omit from the table of contents are the acknowledgements and abstract, if your paper has these. These should come before the table of contents, so it's not logical to include them. Additionally, make sure the table of contents itself isn't listed; that's obviously not much use to the reader! You can read more about this issue here.


Chaden Al Tawil
February 9, 2021 at 12:48 AM

I would really like to know if the headings must be numbered or not. If yes, which kind of numbering must be used/


Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 9, 2021 at 3:32 PM

Hi Chaden,

APA Style does not recommend numbering headings. Just use the recommended formatting for different levels of heading—shown here—without numbering, unless your university tells you otherwise.


January 8, 2021 at 12:27 PM


It is compulsory for my dissertation paper to have a 'list of tables and figures'.

Though it is difficult to find the right format as the table of contents because there is a space between the 'Figure 1' and the 'Title'. So, the list of tables and figures only automatically generates the 'figure 1' without the title. Can you help me to have the figure 1 & Title on the list of tables and figures? Would be appreciated.

Thanks! :)


Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
January 26, 2021 at 3:11 PM

Hi Ema,

You're right that auto-generating the list won't quite work in that instance. I'm afraid your best option in this case is probably to generate the list in that way and then add the titles manually by typing or copying them into the list. Doing this won't affect the headings in the text.


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