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Creating documents: a Practical Guide

Page structure

Page structure

A document is more than paragraphs - it might have footnotes, endnotes, tables of contents and figures, and so on... On this page we look at sorting out your page structure, from how to move to a new page (without hitting Enter a lot!) to setting up your table of contents and numbering.

Why does page structure matter?

Though the content of a document is, of course, vital, the structure of the pages is very important too, especially for longer documents or those that will be edited frequently. As with styles, using good page structure ensures that the computer knows the different elements of your document, especially where the document has different sections or where there are footnotes or endnotes.

Combined with styles, using proper page structure allows you to use the full range of features in a text processor, makes it easier to keep your documents updated and looking how you expect them to, and helps with accessibility and accessing your document on different devices and in different ways.

Some features relating to page structure only exist in Word, and others exist in both Word and Google Docs. It is worth bearing in mind if you need to use a feature that is only in Word (like automatically numbered headings) when deciding which application to use.

Table of contents

One advantage of using heading styles in your document is that you can then automatically create a formatted table of contents without needing to manually type one out. Heading styles need to be applied to all headings and sub-headings first, so the document knows which text should be included in your table of contents.

Insert automatic table of contents

Word logo

Before adding a table of contents, check you have first assigned an appropriate heading style to all of the Heading and sub-headings in your document.


It can be helpful if you open the Navigation pane via View > Show > Navigation pane. This will show you a list of all the recognised headings in the document and give you a preview of what will appear in the automatic Table of Contents. If this list is blank, you may first need to apply heading styles to your document.

First, place your cursor in the document where you would like your Table of Contents to go. Then go to References > Table of Contents to insert a automatic table of contents using one of the two automatic options.

The references tab with the table of contents button highlighted showing the automatic table of contents option

If you need to customise what headings appear in your table of contents, select Custom Table of Contents. Here you can change the separator between the headings and the page numbers along with how many 'levels' of headings you want to include (Heading 1 = Level 1 etc). If you have created your own styles that need to be included in the Table of Contents, select the Option... button to edit which styles are included.

If you make changes to your headings or the order of your document after adding an automatic table of contents, it will not automatically update. When finishing a document, make sure to update your table of contents so it correctly reflects the order of the document. Right-click on any of the text in your table of contents and select Update field > Update entire table.

Update field option when you right click on a table of contents
Google Docs logo

Once you've added heading styles to your document, go to Insert > Table of Contents.

Insert menu showing the Table of Contents option

The two thumbnail icons here allow you to choose from either a format with page numbers (which are also hyperlinked), or so they show as blue links without page numbers.

Once you've inserted your table of contents, it will not update automatically if you make any further changes to the document. Click on your table of contents, and select the circular-arrow 'refresh' button to update it.

When clicking on a table of contents in Google Docs, use the circular arrow to refresh the table

Insert Table of figures and List of tables (Word only)

Word logo

It is also possible to create an automatic Table of Figures or List of Tables in Microsoft Word. This relies on having first used Captions in your document next to an image or table.

  1. While inserting an image or a table into a document, insert a caption by going to References > Captions > Insert Caption. In the box that appears, set the Label option as either 'Figure' (usually used for images and diagrams), 'Table' or 'Equation'. You can also edit the numbering here if needed. Press OK and the label will be inserted into your document. You can then type a caption on the same line and you may notice that the 'caption' style has been automatically applied to this text.
  2. After inserting all of your captions, place your cursor where you would like to insert your List of Tables or Table of Figures.
  3. Go to References > Insert Table of Figures. You will use this same option even if you are instead creating a List of Tables.
  4. In the Captions Label section, set this as either 'Figure', 'Table' or 'Equation', depending on which list you are wanting to create.
  5. Press OK. Repeat this process if you need to create another list using a different label.
  6. If you make any changes to your document, this Table of Figures or List of Tables will not automatically update. Right-click on the list and select Update Field > Update entire table

Heading numbering

Adding numbering to the headings and sub-headings in your document can help to add structure and define the different sections in your document. Being able to add automatic numbering is another useful outcome of using styles in a Microsoft Word document.

When you use heading styles, they are linked to different 'Levels', which is how the document knows the difference between a top-level heading and then sub-headings within. For example, we may use the 'Heading 1' style for the main chapters or sections of our document. Then for sub-headings, we may apply 'Heading 2' as a level 2 style. Once that multi-level structure is set up in your document, you can then create numbering while helps to show those levels (1, 1.1, 1.1.1, etc).

Add Multi-level numbering (Word only)

Adding automatic heading numbering is only available in Microsoft Word.

Word logo

Before setting up multi-level numbering, make sure you have assigned the appropriate styles to headings in your document.

On the Home tab, look for the 'Paragraph' section. In this section, find the 'Multilevel List' icon. Hovering over the icon should show a label, as it can easily be confused with the single-level numbered list icon, which is just to the left of it.

Multilevel lists icon an the home tab in Word

On this box that appears, you can select from a number of different formats. To ensure that automatic numbering is automatically applied whenever you use a heading style, select an option which shows the names of heading styles (Heading 1, Heading 2 etc) listed in the preview.

One multilevel lists button, with a numbering format selected which includes the headings styles

Page breaks and Section breaks

Sometimes you need to start a new page or break your document into different sections, so that those sections can be formatted differently. This can be achieved by placing a 'break' into the document; to tell it where one thing should end and another should begin. There are two types of breaks: Page Breaks and Section Breaks, which behave differently.

Page Breaks are simply used for marking where text should end on one page and any following text should continue on the next page. This is a more reliable method to using the 'enter' key on your keyboard to make space. Page breaks will still stay in the same place even if you were to edit or alter your document later on.

Section Breaks are a little more powerful. They tell the document where one section ends and another one begins. This could be at the end of a chapter, or wherever you may need certain parts of the document to differ in some way. Once the document knows where the different sections are, elements such as the Header or Footer, page orientation or automatic numbering can be altered for just a particular section. One example could be needing the first few pages of a document to have Roman Numerals for the page numbering, but then the main text to start again in a different format (1,2,3 etc). By inserting a section break, you can unlink these sections so they have different formatting or orientation.

Inserting breaks

Word logo

Firstly, place your cursor where you would like to add a break. Go to Layout > Breaks to insert either Section Breaks or Page Breaks. If you are using Section Breaks to mark a particular section in the document, you will need to insert one at the before and after the text you would like in a separate section.

The list of available breaks on the layout tab in Microsoft Word

If inserting a Section Break, a 'Next page' break will move the next paragraph onto the next page, whereas a 'Continuous' page break will allow you to continue adding more paragraphs to the same page (if there is space!).

Google Docs logo

In Google Docs, go to Insert > Break. A 'next page' section break will move any later text onto a new page, whereas a 'Continuous' section break allows you to continue text on the same page.

The list of available breaks on the layout tab in Microsoft Word

The 'Paragraph marks' button (Word only)

Word logo

In Microsoft Word, the location of Page Breaks or Section Breaks are hidden, so it is hard to know where breaks have been previously added when trying to manage the formatting of your document.

On the Home tab, you can select the Paragraph Marks icon to show all of the hidden formatting in the document. When turning this on, you will see lots of extra symbols over your text. This is just a view for you, and can easily be turned off again at any time. It also won't affect the document when printing or sending on to someone else.

Paragraph marks button on the Home tab in Microsoft Word

You will then see any page breaks or section breaks in between paragraphs. You can remove any by placing your cursor at the beginning of the line and selecting the Delete key on your keyboard.

Section break marker when the paragraph marks button is turned on in Microsoft Word

Unlinking sections (Word only)

In Microsoft Word, you may need the header or footer in your document to have a different setup (numbering, title etc) for one particular section of your document. If so, you will need to 'unlink' the sections before changing any formatting. This process is slightly odd as you have to work backwards, starting by looking at the section which is after the one you want to change to unlink it:

  1. First, insert Section Breaks (Layout > Breaks > Section Break) before and after the section you would like to change.
  2. Go to the section after the one you would like to change and double click on the header/footer to edit it. You should see a label at the top right of the header/footer which shows you the section number and where the next section starts.
  3. On the ribbon, go to the Header & Footer tab. In the 'Navigation' section, you should see the Link to previous button is selected and has a darker background colour. Select this to turn it off. The will unlink the following section to the one you want to change.
  4. If the section you want to change is in the middle of your document, you may need to repeat step 3 for other sections too. You will first need to click your cursor on a page that is in that other section.
  5. You can then edit the header or footer as needed.

Endnotes and Footnotes

Footnotes or Endnotes are a way of placing a small 'superscript' number or letter next to a word or sentence. This then links to a comment, citation or other note that is listed either at the bottom of the page (Footnote) or end of the document (Endnote).

You may need to check with your department around if you should use Footnotes or Endnotes, along with what information can be included in these.

Insert Footnotes or Endnotes

Word logo

Firstly, place your cursor next to the word or sentence that you would like to add a note for. Go to References > Insert Footnote or Insert Endnote.

To edit the formatting of the superscript number or letter, right click on the Footnotes/Endnotes that appear at the bottom of the page (Footnote) or document (Endnote) and select Note Options.... From here you can alter the numbering format and convert the notes from Endnotes to Footnotes if needed. This box also allows you to apply changes to a particular section, if you have used Section Breaks in your document.

Google Docs logo

Google Docs just allows you to enter Footnotes at the bottom of each page. Place your cursor next to the word or sentence you would like to insert a Footnote. Go to Insert > Footnote where you can then enter your note at the bottom of the page.


Page structure exercises

Once you've gone over the material on this page, try the following exercises to apply your knowledge:

  1. Add a new page to a document using a Page Break (Insert > Page Break).
  2. If you are using Microsoft Word, turn on the Paragraph Marks button to see the hidden formatting.
  3. Insert a Next page section break and then add some content.
  4. After the content you've added, add another Section break to split your document into three sections.