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How To Set Up A Research Paper Table Of Contents

The main purpose of the table of contents is to give your reader a good point of reference to help them navigate and understand your paper easily.

One thing to consider when creating the table of contents for your research paper is which format the paper is to be written in. The requirements for MLA and APA differ slightly.


APA is the style most often used for scientific research papers and is one of the more structured styles, and as such leaves you with fewer options on how to break up and arrange your text, which is somewhat helpful. Make sure that you include an abstract as well as a list of references. You should also, of course, adhere to the APA format in the table of contents as well as in the document.


MLA research papers tend to be somewhat less structured than papers written in APA format. You have more leeway in deciding how to structure and break up the text, which will naturally affect the layout of your table of contents. You do need to make sure that you have an unnumbered title page. Also, if you have used illustrations and tables, they need to be included in their own list, which needs to be in the table of contents.

Microsoft Word provides a step by step method for creating a table of contents.

Setting up a table of contents for a research paper (or any other document for which you might need a table of contents) is a very simple process if you are working with Microsoft Word. Here is what you will need to do:

  1. With your document open, click on the ‘References’ tab.
  2. Click on the ‘Table of Contents’ button, located on in the upper left-hand corner
  3. Choose your desired format from the drop down menu.

Among the drop down options, there is also an option to fill in a table of contents manually or to create a custom table of contents. Unless you have been using heading style 1, 2, or 3, this would probably be the best option. However, if you have been using the Heading 1 – 3 then you can select automatic table one or automatic table two, which will fill in your table of contents based on the headings that you have used.

And remember, the most important thing is to make sure that your reader can quickly and efficiently navigate your research paper.

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