How to line up page numbers in table of contents

One of the most annoying problems self-publishing authors encounter when formatting their book in Microsoft Word is lining up the table of contents. Fortunately, it’s actually quite easy to do, an after you’ve done it a couple of times, you’ll have it memorized.

In your open Word document, go to the table of contents. Type a single space and then the number 1 after the last letter of each line that you wish to list in your table of contents. In a table of contents for one of my books, that would look like this:

Amnicon Falls State Park 1
Island Trails 1
Other Park Trails 1

Next, highlight your entire table of contents. In the Home ribbon, click the arrow in the lower right corner of the Paragraph section. A pop-up will appear. Under the Indents and spacing tab of the pop-up, click the Tabs button in the lower left corner. Click Clear all on the lower right side.

The next step is to set up your tabs that will line up your page numbers. You’ll first need to type in a number in the Tab stop position box. This number differs depending on your book’s trim size and how far over you want your page numbers to appear. Generally, you will type in a number that is about a quarter of an inch from the book text’s right margin. You’ll likely have to play around with different numbers to get it right where you want it to go.

After setting the number, under Alignment, click the circle next to Right. This tells the software to line up all of your numbers on the page’s right side.

Below that under Leader, click on the circle that matches what you would like to use. Usually books have no leader while academic papers use ellipses (which is option 2).

Hit OK. That brings you back to your manuscript’s table of contents.

Place the cursor in the space between the last word of a line and the 1 (For example, in the sample table of contents above, I’d place the cursor in the space between Park and 1.). Then hit tab. The 1 should shift to the right. Repeat with the next line. The 1 should shift to the right and appear aligned directly below the previous line’s 1. Keep repeating until you’ve done all of the lines in your table of contents.

The last step is to add the actual page numbers. Do this by highlighting each 1 and typing the appropriate page number. The numbers you type will remain aligned.

This alignment is only necessary for your paperback. An ebook wouldn’t have page numbers but instead would link chapter and section titles to the spot where they start within the book.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.