6.1.1 Using Word’s Heading Styles and Constructing an Active Table of Contents

Although I recommend constructing headings and the table of contents manually whenever possible to retain control over the structure of your thesis, you may wish or be required to include an active table of contents, which means that readers using the electronic or digital version of your thesis will be able to click on any heading within the table of contents and immediately be taken to that part of your thesis. If so and you are working in Word, you can use Word’s styles to set up your headings and automatically insert an active table of contents. There are two different ways of proceeding, both of which produce the same result. If you have already established the format of the headings in your thesis, you need only identify the format of each heading level as a heading style in Word. Let us say, for instance, that you have three levels of heading in your thesis, with chapter headings in a 14-point bold font, section headings in a 12-point bold font and subheadings in a 12-point italic font. Select the heading for Chapter 1: Introduction, right click on the Heading 1 box above the word ‘Styles’ in Word’s Home menu and left click on ‘Update Heading 1 to Match Selection.’ This will set Word’s Heading 1 in your thesis document to the format you have established for chapter headings. Then you need to go through your document and individually select each heading that should appear in the Heading 1 style and left click on the Heading 1 box in each case. Any differences remaining between the formatting of the headings you select and the first one you established as Heading 1 will be changed to match that first heading. The procedure is exactly the same for lower heading levels, so to set the style for section headings within chapters, select the first section heading in your thesis (Background, for example), right click on the Heading 2 box above the word ‘Styles’ and left click on ‘Update Heading 2 to Match Selection’; to set the format for subsection headings, select the first subsection heading in the thesis (Theoretical Studies, for instance), right click on the Heading 3 box and left click on ‘Update Heading 3 to Match Selection.’ You will then need to go through your document and set the style for all section and subsection headings just as you did for the chapter headings: select each section heading and left click on the Heading 2 box, then select each subsection heading and left click on the Heading 3 box.

If, on the other hand, you have not established the formats for the heading levels in your thesis or are setting the heading styles as you write the thesis, you may want to modify the format and style of your headings within the heading boxes. To do this, type in the first chapter heading in whatever style and size of font you are using in the main body of the thesis (e.g., ‘Chapter 1: Introduction’), then select the heading and left click on the Heading 1 box. Your heading will take on whatever formats are currently set for Heading 1 in your Word document, so unless you want to keep that format, right click on the Heading 1 box with the chapter heading still selected, then left click on ‘Modify.’ A box will come up in which you can set the specific formats (font size, style, colour, etc.) you want to use for your chapter headings; once you are done, simply click ‘OK’ at the bottom to apply those formats to your first heading. You can then select all other headings that should be formatted in the Heading 1 style and left click on the Heading 1 box in each case. The same procedures should be used to set and modify the formats for section and subsection headings, using the Heading 2 box for the first and the Heading 3 box for the second, and ensuring that you then select and assign the appropriate heading style to each heading in the thesis. Word will continue to produce a new Heading box (Heading 4, Heading 5 etc.) each time you assign a new heading style, so you can format many levels of heading using this technique. Modifying your headings once they are all typed in and formatted is easy as well: simply select any heading of a certain style, right click on the appropriate heading box, left click on ‘Modify’ and make the required changes, which will then show up in all headings of that style.

With the format of all your headings set as specific heading styles in Word, you can automatically construct an active table of contents for your thesis. To do so, left click where you want your table of contents to appear in your document, type ‘Contents’ or ‘Table of Contents’ (the first is usually preferable) and hit the return or enter key. You then need to choose the References menu, click on the Table of Contents box to the far left at the top of the screen and choose ‘Insert Table of Contents’ near the bottom of the box that comes up. This will bring up another box in which you can make choices about how your table of contents will appear. You may want to play around with these a little to see which of the format choices offered by the program works best for your thesis, but do be sure to set the number in the Show Levels box to the correct value for the number of heading levels you have in your document: for example, if you have five levels of heading, it will need to be set to ‘5’ if you want all levels of headings included in the table of contents, but if you only want the table of contents to show three or four of those levels, set the value to ‘3’ or ‘4’ accordingly.

Once you are done, click ‘OK’ and your new table of contents will appear in your document. Check through it carefully to ensure that all headings and subheadings appear as they should; if you have missed selecting and assigning heading styles to some of your headings, they will not appear, so you will need to locate each one in your thesis, select it and left click on the appropriate heading box. Once you have done this for all missed headings, you can update your table of contents by left clicking anywhere in the table’s field (it will turn grey) and pressing the F9 key. In many cases the table of contents will simply update, but a box may come up asking whether you want to ‘Update page numbers only’ or ‘Update entire table.’ In this case you will want to update the entire table so that the headings you originally missed will be added, and you can use the same process to update the table of contents whenever you add, delete or change any headings in your thesis. Page numbers tend to update by themselves as a document is written or edited, but to be sure they do, you can choose the ‘Update page numbers only’ option so that any changes in the position of headings in the document are reflected in the table of contents. After making changes to an automatic table of contents, always check the headings and page numbers in the table for accuracy against the headings and their positions in the text of the thesis before submitting or sharing it with readers, and if it is essential that your table of contents be active, you will need to check that as well. This is easily done by holding down the control key and left clicking on one of the headings in the table of contents. This should take you to that same heading in the body of your thesis, and you can check any or all of the headings in your table of contents in this way.

PRS Tip: An effective way to improve your use of headings in your thesis is to pay careful attention to how headings are used in the many books, theses and papers you read as you research your topic. Notice how different authors have constructed and formatted headings to deal with the challenges presented by the contents of their texts, and ask yourself in every case what works and what does not. Each scholarly document is unique, of course, and requires its own system of titles, headings and subheadings to outline both argument and content effectively, but much can be learned, borrowed and adapted from successful layouts that you encounter in your research, particularly those in theses recently completed within your discipline or department. To enable topics to be located in this book, for instance, there are four main levels of heading under the title of the book, with each level numbered differently for precise cross-referencing: in the book itself (as opposed to the table of contents, in which the font sizes and styles are a little different) part headings appear in a 16-point roman font and are numbered with Roman numerals (I); chapter titles use a bold 14-point roman font and are numbered with single Arabic numerals (1); chapter sections appear in a bold 12-point roman font and are numbered with double Arabic numerals (1.1); and chapter subsections use a plain 12-point roman font and are numbered with triple Arabic numerals (1.1.1). In some sections and subsections there are also unnumbered paragraph headings in a bold 12-point roman font: these headings are designed to make certain topics more accessible, but they do not appear in the table of contents. If after examining titles and headings wherever you can find them you are still experiencing difficulties with designing an effective system of headings for your thesis chapters, please do not hesitate to send your work to PRS for proofreading. As critical readers who encounter a great deal of new scholarly writing on a daily basis, the PRS proofreaders can determine whether titles and headings are clarifying or confusing the structure of chapters and a thesis as a whole. They can make and suggest changes to improve the consistency and differentiation achieved by a system of headings. They can compare all the chapters, parts and sections of a thesis with its table of contents to ensure accuracy and consistency as well as a logical and attractive representation of the structure of the thesis in its table of contents. In addition, they can devote the same exacting and objective attention to every other aspect of your thesis, from your use of commas to your inclusion of full bibliographical references. They can, in short, help you improve your thesis and achieve the peace of mind you need to submit and defend that thesis with confidence.

Why PhD Success?

To Graduate Successfully

This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.

The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.

The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.

Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations. 

Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.

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