Table of contents in legal contracts

Table of contents in legal contracts

It’s not a surprise that legal contracts often get signed, then filed away, never to be looked at again. On the other hand, some businesses have contracts that they frequently need to refer back to.

Finding the right bit of information in a contract can be difficult. There are a lot of clauses in there that might only be needed in certain situations. The parties’ obligations can also be spread throughout the contract and might be found in more than one place. You might also have to cross-refer between clauses and definitions as you go. All these factors can make contracts difficult to navigate.

That’s why, to help contract users go straight to what they are looking for, it can be a good idea to use a Table of Contents (or TOC) when creating a contract.

In this article, we’ll show you the steps you need to know to create the perfect Table of Contents. Most contract authors use Microsoft Word, so that’s also what we will focus on here.

Step 1 – Make sure you’re using Heading Styles

When you draft a contract, it is always best to make use of the Heading Styles. You will find the Quick Styles gallery under the Home tab. This can be expanded, where you will find options that allow you to create, modify and manage the style that will be applied to your text.

The contract template may already have styles that are suitable for clause headings and numbering. If not, it’s worth taking the time to learn how to set these up for your template. Your clause headings will have to be “styled” using the right style for the next steps to work.

Step 2 – Decide where you want your Table of Contents

Normally the Table of Contents will be at the start of your document (often it is the next page after the cover page).

Click your cursor to where you would like the Table of Contents to be inserted. You might also like to insert a page break so that the Table of Contents can have its own page.

Next, click on the References tab where you will see a Table of Contents button that looks like this:

Microsoft Word gives you the choice to select from its default options. Alternatively, you may wish to customize your Table of Contents.

Step 3 – Customise your Table of Contents

A customized option might be needed, if, for example:

  • You have more than three heading levels (as the default options only support up to three heading levels).
  • You want to change the tab leaders (that is whether you want to use dots, dashes, or other symbols to fill the space between the heading title and the page number).
  • You want to change the formatting of the page numbers.
  • You want hyperlinked headings so that they can be clicked.

You can change all these variables by selecting the “Custom Table of Contents” option.  You will also find that there are further options available here – for example, allowing you to map the different heading formats to the Quick Styles you have previously defined.

Step 4 – Update or amend your Table of Contents

Once you have inserted the Table of Contents, you may wish to update or amend it.

If you spot and want to fix an error (for example, a spelling mistake), go to the relevant heading in the contract and fix it there. You shouldn’t try and fix it within the Table of Contents itself, otherwise, your correction will be lost when the Table is next updated.

If you make changes to the clause headings in your contract (or, for example, the page numbers change because you have inserted or deleted text), you will then need to update the Table.

To do this, click within the Table of Contents and a button will appear at the top, that looks like this.

You can also find this button under the References tab. Alternatively, you can use the Microsoft Word shortcut, which is to press Ctrl + A (to select all the content in your contract) and then press the F9 key – which updates all the fields in your document.

In some cases, you might see the message “Error! Bookmark not defined”. This is because Microsoft Word relies on hidden “bookmarks” to create the Table of Contents. If these bookmarks cannot be found, you will see this error.  Updating the Table of Contents will usually resolve this issue.

When you have been editing a contract, it’s always a good idea to refresh and update the Table of Contents in this way as the last step. It’s also a good tip to do a final check by searching for the word “error” (use the navigation pane at the side of the document, or Ctrl + F). This will highlight if any references have not been updated properly and that you might need to fix them.

Learning to update a Table of Contents is one of those skills that doesn’t take long to master but can then save valuable time for the future users of your contract. The added benefit, of course, is that your contracts will also quickly look a lot more professional!

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