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Rules for Creating a Table of Contents: Basic, APA & MLA Examples

written by: Janelle Martel • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 10/17/2014

In this article you will learn how to create a basic table of contents as well as how to adapt it for APA and MLA styles. Examples of each style are included for reference.

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    Introduction

    Paper Clip note page A table of contents is best used in a paper that can be divided into sections or chapters. Creating a table of contents seems like a simple idea, but can often be frustrating due to the rules of spacing or style issues.

    We'll explain rules for creating a table of contents, along with examples of basic APA and MLA styles. A basic table of contents can be used when no style type is specified, whereas an APA styletable of contents is mostly used in the social sciences, and the MLA style in literature.

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    Basic Table of Contents

    We will first examine a basic style followed by the APA and MLA formats.

    A basic table of contents should show what topics have been covered in your writing or story, and how your piece has been organized. Each major section or chapter should be recognized in your table of contents, along with the page number it is located on. In terms of reports that contain large sections, it can be useful to use descriptive headlines, so that the reader is easily able to locate the information he or she is looking for. If each section of this article was a separate page, the table of contents would look like this:

    Table of Contents

    Introduction................................................................1

    Basic Table of Contents..............................................2

    APA Style Table of Contents.......................................3

    MLA Style Table of Contents.......................................4

    Notice how each entry in this table of contents uses capital letters, just as the title of the section does. Lining up the page numbers also makes a visually pleasing table and is easier to read. Word processing programs often have formatting in order to create a nicely spaced table of contents. Although not necessary, in this example an entry with descriptive headlines would look like this:

    Basic Table of Contents

    Description..................................................................3

    Example.....................................................................3

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    APA Style Table of Contents

    The use of tables of contents in APA-style papers varies, depending on the type of paper that is being written. A literature review usually does not contain a table of contents, but instead contains a standard title page, introduction, and list of references. It would be divided into sections and is thus suitable for a table of contents, which would look something like this:

    Table of Contents

    Abstract....................................................................2

    Introduction..............................................................4

    Method....................................................................5

    Results....................................................................8

    Tables.....................................................................10

    References..............................................................12

    Note that in APA style the table of contents, the title is not underlined or bolded and an APA table of contents must contain an abstract and list of references. Though not shown in the example, the general formatting for APA style must also be followed. Papers written in APA style will most likely make good use of descriptive headlines in its table of contents.

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    MLA Style Table of Contents

    If the paper is long enough, an MLA style paper can have a table of contents. There is also no method for breaking up text in the MLA format, so this is left to your discretion and would depend on the content. Suggested sections include Acknowledgments, Foreword, Introduction, Body (Parts I, II, III), Summary or Conclusion, Afterward, Explanatory Notes, Appendices, Contact Organizations, Glossary, Endnotes (if not using Footnotes or Parenthetical citations), Bibliography, and Index.

    A title page should also be included, but will not be numbered, unless it is on the same page as the main page of text. Remember also that an MLA style paper requires a list of illustrations and tables. This is similar to the table of contents, but you still need to include this page on your table of contents. A title page in MLA Style might look like this:

    Contents

    Introduction..............................................................2

    Arts.........................................................................5

    Government..............................................................8

    Works Cited............................................................10

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    References & Further Reading

    APA Style Guide

    http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

    MLA Syle Guide

    https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/