Generating an Automatic Table of Contents from an InDesign Template

Once you get the hang of it, the Table of Contents generator in Adobe InDesign is a breeze to use, and if you’re using an InDesign template, most of the work is already done for you, making your job flow that much easier and faster.

Here’s why:

InDesign’s Table of Contents generator works with Character Styles and Paragraph Styles to generate a Table of Contents. The generator searches your document for Styles of various titles, subtitles, headings, and subheadings, as specified by you, the user, and generates a Table of Contents based on these Styles, along with certain formatting options that you choose from the generator dialogue.

Your InDesign template most likely comes with a handful of Styles predefined, and you can make new ones easily by formatting your text with the Character and Paragraph palettes, highlighting your text, and choosing New Paragraph Style from the dropdown menu in the upper right hand corner of the Paragraph Styles palette. Be sure to name your new Style by double clicking it in the palette’s list and entering a name that you can remember.

Text styles are pre-defined

Now go to Layout>Table of Contents. If for some reason you don’t see Table of Contents under the Layout menu, choose Layout>Show All Menu Items, and the menu choice will appear.

Sample of TOC styles palette


Clicking on Table of Contents brings up the Table of Contents dialogue box. Here, you will be generating a list of text titles (and subtitles, if you like) based on the text that you have already formatted into Styles within your document. You can go ahead and name your Table of Contents something like “Contents” or something else, if you like. Also, you can go ahead and choose a display format for your Contents list based on a Paragraph Style that you have already defined.

Note: For the TOC Style entry, you must already have a saved Table of Contents style previously formatted. If you don’t have one yet, you can save a new one by clicking Save Style on the right of the dialogue.

You base your TOC Style on the Other Styles listed in the dialogue and choosing Add or Remove. Add two or more Paragraph Styles if you want to include Headings, Subheadings, and Figures in your TOC. You must have previously defined Styles for each of these configurations, though, so if you don’t already have them, go back and define those now.

TOC style option settings

Each Style that you Add to the “Include Paragraph Styles” box can be modified individually to fit into the TOC configuration neatly. Click on one of the Included Styles, and you can adjust its TOC display just below, under the “Style:” section, the one with the colon.

Select one of your included Styles, and make sure you click on More Options on the right hand side of the dialogue. This will display all of your options for formatting each heading and subheading individually. The Style you chose to “Include” earlier just means that each instance of that Style from your document will receive a place in your TOC list. You can format these entries differently if you want by choosing a Style for your list from the Entry Style menu. Choose where to place the page number, and choose a Style for your Page Numbers. For entries into the Between Entry and Number input, you can use the flyout menu (the little triangle on the side of the box) to choose spacing based on definitions like “em space,” “white space, “ etc., or you if you know the codes, you can simply input these manually. You can choose whether or not to sort your entries in alphabetical order (if you don’t, they will be sorted based on page number), and you can assign a level to your new Style. Level defines which Style will be placed at highest priority and closest to the left margin. Play around with this menu choice to see what I mean.

Now, in the Include Paragraph Styles box, choose another Style from your document that you want to include in your new TOC. Selecting it resets the Style: options for the newly selected Style, and you can get to work defining the look and placement of your second style.

The Options choices allow you to add certain preferences. PDF bookmarks, for instance, will create clickable bookmarks when you export to PDF. These are great for reading on the web or tablets.

Click Save, and your cursor automatically converts to a Text Insertion format. Click and drag or just click to insert your new Table of Contents with the formatting you chose. You can always re-size your text box and edit specific text attributes once it’s placed.

Play around with the Table of Contents dialogue based on your InDesign Template’s Paragraph Styles, and you’ll be up and running in no time creating complex and detailed Table of Contents.

About the Author:

Sam Singer is Graphic Designer and Copywriter who specializes in illustration, infographics, print design, and web graphics. Sam writes for www.bestindesigntemplates.com, a web site where will find plenty of templates for magazines, annual reports, catalogs, and other documents that work with and without Table of Contents.

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3 Responses

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  • Alan Smith, June 18, 2013

    I will have to try InDesign template, hope i will not get any error :)

  • Peter, June 18, 2013

    Thats some great information and well written. Thanks for your hard work. I have not played with indesign myself but it seems to become a tool also to be used for webdesign. Not that that has anything to do with the topic :). Have to give it a second look.

  • Kathleen Conforti, June 20, 2013

    I’ve been using this a lot lately, InDesign is my favorite of the suite because of sweet features like this.