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How to Create a Table of Contents in a PDF

November 26, 2021

PDFs are an effective way to send out information to readers or colleagues. PDFs can be viewed on mobile devices and computers, so you can be sure that all your readers have access to the file. PDFs also can't be changed or edited, which means your information will stay the same and secure.

Not adding a table of contents to a PDF can be frustrating, however. The readers won't know what to expect from the document, and they will find it hard to navigate to specific pages. Adding a table of contents can solve many of these issues for your clients and readers.

What Is a Table of Contents?

A table of contents will list all the different sections of your file. It will show how your writing is broken up into separate categories. It will allow the reader to know what to expect from the reading. A table of contents will also show which page each new section starts on.

Just like a table of contents in a textbook or other reading materials, the table of contents in a PDF will list where you can find specific sections. It allows you to easily access the areas of the material you want to get to quicker.

Why Use a Table of Contents?

While a table of contents is handy to the writer and reader, there are many reasons you might want to add one to your PDF. You might even find there are some benefits you didn't think of before. Below are the most common reasons people choose to include a table of contents.

  1. Personal Preference. Many people find that they like how a table of contents looks at the beginning of the PDF. You'll find that the PDF looks much more professional. A table of contents also makes the PDF appear more like professional reading, such as a book or official reading. If you don't like how the table of contents looks, you can always delete it or change it later.
  1. Readability For Yourself and Others. Improving the readability of your PDF is highly crucial if you want more people to see your work. If a reader must scroll through hundreds of pages looking for the section or information they want, they may give up and try to find another source. It will also allow you to remember where your sections are located and edit them later if needed.
  1. Easy Way to Show all the Topics. Before people start reading something, they usually want to know what topics they can find in the material. A table of contents will tell the reader if your PDF has what they're looking for or not. Colleagues and clients will also see which topics you covered if you wrote the PDF for a work-related task.
  1. Easy Document Navigation. If you are looking for a particular topic, you can easily find the page number in the table of contents and then go to the exact page. This is also perfect if you are referencing items during meetings or classes. You can tell your peers or colleagues to turn to a specific page where they will easily find the information you are discussing.

Ongoing Benefits of Using a Table of Contents

For many people, the benefits of learning how to add a table of contents into a PDF will help them in their professional and personal life. It will make the readability and accessibility of your files much easier in the workplace and at school if you are making presentations. Overall, it will show you as a skilled and professional worker.

Steps for Adding the Table of Contents

When it comes to adding the table of contents, you might find it surprising to know that the easiest way to complete it is to convert it into a word document first. Once you have a PDF, you cannot edit while it's still in PDF mode. So you might think you can't change anything at this point. However, if you move the PDF into a Word doc first, you can make as many edits as you need.

The easiest way to make the table of contents is using Word after converting the PDF from Adobe or another software you might be using.

The exact steps for adding a table of contents will be highlighted below, but they follow these general guidelines:

  • Always convert the PDF into a Microsoft Word file
  • Add the table of contents using Word and then resave it as a PDF
  • Add the table of contents using Word and then put it back into Adobe Acrobat  

Each step is pretty straightforward, and the whole process can be done within a matter of minutes. You'll find that adding the table of contents through this method is efficient and quick.

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Converting the PDF into a Microsoft Word File

This is the most crucial step because it allows you to make edits. Microsoft Word also makes the table of contents based on your headings, so you can simply insert it. It will automatically put the section names and page numbers for you.

  1. Open your PDF file on your computer. Your PDF might be in Acrobat DC or Preview, depending on your computer and what software you used to make the PDF.
  2. At the top right, choose "Export PDF."
  3. Choose "Microsoft Word" when asked what format you want to export to. Choose "Word Document."
  4. Click "Export." This might take a few moments, depending on how much text you have.
  5. Save the new file with the ending DOCX.

Now that your PDF is in Word, you can make the table of contents using the steps below.

Creating a Table of Contents in Word

Once you have your PDF into Word, you can easily make the table of contents.

  1. Apply heading styles and subheadings that you want. You can do this by highlighting the heading and then choosing "Heading 1" or which whichever heading you want from the styles plane.
  2. Click the References tab and then choose "Table of Contents." Choose the style you want from the list that opens.
  3. Click "File" and then "Save As." Choose "Browse" and choose where you want to save the file. Click "PDF" in the Type drop-down box.
  4. Click the "Options" button and wait for the options box to appear. Click "Create Bookmarks Using" and then click "Headings." Choose "OK" and then "Save."
  5. Now choose "File" and then "Save As." Finally, decide where you want to save the document.
  6. Click "Save As Type" and then choose "PDF."
  7. Click "Save" one more time. This will put your file back into a PDF.

Using Existing Headings and Subheadings in Adobe Acrobat

If you are using Adobe Acrobat, you can use these steps below to make a table of contents. Unfortunately, Adobe Acrobat doesn't allow you to directly make a table of contents, but you can still use a Word document and convert it into a PDF.

  1. Copy and paste the major headings and subheadings from your current PDF in Adobe into Microsoft Word. You can also use another word processing program as long as they can save files into PDFs.
  2. Choose the formatting you want or add images if you're going to include them.
  3. Click "Save As" and then choose PDF from the drop-down menu. Then, make sure to click "Save" again.
  4. Open Adobe and open the ODF document you are working with. Click "Insert Page from Another File." Find the table of contents you just made and choose "Open."
  5. Now click "Location" from the drop-down box and choose "Before." Now Click "First" and then "Ok." It might take a few moments for the PDF to be added.
  6. Choose "Tools" and then "Content Editing." Now click "Add or Edit Link."
  7. Draw a rectangle over the first heading in the table of contents. A dialog box should open around it.
  8. Choose "Invisible Rectangle" and then "Go to Page View." Click "Next."
  9. On the left, you should see a list of the pages. Choose the one you want the link to go to. Click "Set Link." Repeat this step for each heading or link you need to make.

Wrapping Up

While you might think that adding a table of contents is hard since PDFs can't be edited, you can see that adding the information into a word document is very easy. You can then resave it as a PDF once you're done, and it will have the completed table of contents. Some users also like to put the table of contents back into Adobe Acrobat if they aren't done with the file and want to make more edits before the final save.

Either way, making the table of contents in a word document is an easy and efficient way to make your document easier to read and easier to navigate.

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