How to Create an Index in Microsoft Word

688368 How to Create an Index in Microsoft Word

Creating an index in Word allows readers to easily find information in your document. An index lists important words, names, or topics that are discussed in a document, along with the pages they appear on. This tutorial will show you how to mark entries for your index, insert the index into your document, and update it if needed.

Why Create an Index?

Adding an index to your Word document can be extremely helpful for readers in locating information quickly and efficiently. Here are some key reasons you may want to create an index:

  • Helps readers find information easily – Rather than skimming through the entire document to find a specific detail, readers can turn to the index and immediately see page numbers for the relevant entry.
  • Improves usability for long documents – Indexes become even more valuable with longer reports, manuals, or books to point readers to where they can learn more about a specific topic.
  • Adds professional polish – Including an index elevates the quality of your document and demonstrates attention to detail.

If you think an index would aid your readers, the steps below will guide you through the straightforward process of building one in Word.

Mark Index Entries in Your Document

Before you can insert an index, you first need to mark entries for the terms or topics you want indexed. Here’s how:

  1. Select the text you want to add to the index. This can be an individual word, phrase, name, or other entry that a reader would look up.
  2. Click the Mark Entry button in the Index group on the References tab in the ribbon. Mark Entry button animation
  3. Select indexing options. After clicking Mark Entry, a dialog box will appear allowing you to refine the index entry. Your options include:
    • Main entry – The primary word(s) a user would look up.
    • Subentry – Allows you to create a hierarchy, with subentries sorted under main entries.
    • Cross-reference – Links to related index entries.
    Choose whichever options make sense for your entry.
  4. Mark additional index entries. Repeat steps 1-3 to continue selecting text and marking terms throughout your document that you want indexed.

The entries themselves will remain in the body text and will not stand out or look different to the reader. But they are now encoded behind-the-scenes for inclusion in the index.

Tips for Marking Entries

Here are some best practices as you go through and mark index entries:

  • Focus on marking only the most important or insightful discussions of a topic, not every single mention.
  • Be consistent in your entry names, like always indexing “Microsoft Word,” not “Word.”
  • Mark different forms of words, like “write” and “writing.”
  • Only mark a long phrase or sentence if readers would specifically search for it.

Insert the Index in Your Document

Once you have marked all the entries you want indexed, you can add the index into your document:

  1. Click where you want to insert the index. This is typically at the end of the document.
  2. Go to the References tab and click the Insert Index button in the Index group. Insert Index button animation
  3. Customize the index layout. After clicking the Insert Index button, a dialog box will appear allowing you to set options like:
    • Columns
    • Tab leader (dots or hyphens between the entry and page number)
    • Right align page numbers
    • Indented entries
    Configure the layout to best fit your document.
  4. Click OK. This will insert the index into your document, with entries alphabetically sorted.

Word will pull in all the entries you marked earlier and organize them into the index format you selected.

Index example image

Now readers can instantly find pages related to individual index entries!

Update or Edit the Index

Don’t forget, if you add, remove, or edit indexed content in your document, you’ll need to refresh the index to keep it up-to-date.

Here is the simple process to update an index:

  1. Click inside the index. You can click anywhere in the index content to select it.
  2. Go to the References tab and click the Update Index button. Update Index button animation
  3. Review changes in the preview and click OK to update.

Word will re-analyze your document and the marked entries, adding new entries that are now marked, removing deleted entries, and updating page numbers where content has shifted. This ensures your index always remains in sync with the document.

Some additional index tips:

  • Update the index right before finalizing a document to capture late changes.
  • If you only want to update page numbers, enable the “Update page numbers only” checkbox when updating.
  • You can right-click to delete the index or unmark individual index entries.

And that covers the essentials of using Word’s indexing feature! Now you have the knowledge to add this powerful document tool to assist readers.

Formatting and Styling Your Index

Beyond basic layout, you can also customize the visual style of your index text. Here are some formatting options to consider:

Font Choice

By default, the index uses the same font as surrounding body text. But you may want to stand it out with distinct font:

  • Smaller font size like 10 or 11 pt since the index contains a lot of text
  • Sans-serif font like Arial for a clean, modern look

Select the index text and change fonts through the Home tab or Mini toolbar.

Hanging Indent

A hanging indent nicely positions the index entries left and page numbers indented right:

Hanging indent diagram

To set a hanging indent:

  1. Right-click the index text
  2. Select Paragraph
  3. Under Indentation, enter a left indent (0″) and right indent (1/2″ – 1″)

Tab Leader

The tab leader fills space between the entry and page number with dots or hyphens:

Tab leader example

Choose a tab leader when inserting the index. Dots give an elegant, formal style.

Cross-Reference Format

If using cross-references, customize their format:

Cross-reference format example

Right-click the index > Index Options > Under Formats, choose formatting like Bold or Italic to differentiate cross-references.

Take advantage of these formatting options to design an easy-to-use, visually appealing index!

Troubleshooting Index Issues

Indexing can be tricky – entries may move around or not format properly. Here are solutions for common index problems in Word:

Index is not in alphabetical order

  • Click inside the index, go to References tab > Sort button > Choose Sort A to Z

Page numbers are incorrect

  • The content may have shifted. Click in the index go to References tab > Update Index to refresh numbers

Same entry showing up multiple times

  • Delete duplicate index entry markings in the body text
  • Or right-click entry > Remove (entry) to delete duplicates

Index indented too far

  • Reduce indent amount in Paragraph > Indentation

Tab leader dots not showing

  • Adjust tab stops spacing and leader settings in Paragraph > Tabs

Page layout changes can throw an index off. Revisit index options to fix formatting issues!

Now you have the complete guide to professionally indexing your Word documents. Use this visual reference as you mark entries, insert your index, and troubleshoot issues. With this knowledge, you can create indexes to enhance your academic papers, technical documents, non-fiction books, and more!

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