Using Word's Headings to Structure Your Non-Fiction Book

I have recently had two large non-fiction projects come in that suffered from a similar problem: unclear structure. Creating a non-fiction book structure can be challenging, but it is vital to do. A meandering structure will confuse the reader, leave them dissatisfied, and often cause them to abandon the book before finishing.

Fortunately, using Microsoft Word’s headings can help you organize your book and see your structure represented in such a way that you can clearly see the levels as you’re working.

Set Up Non-Fiction Structure

The first step is to set up your headings.

  • Go to your home page and click the little arrow in the lower right corner of the Styles box.
  • This will bring up a box with all the headings listed. Heading styles are built-in and labeled Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.
  • You may change the styles of the headings so they make sense to you by centering, bolding, changing the size, etc.

Next, go through your manuscript.

  • Using your predefined heading styles, change your manuscript headings to the style you wish.
  • Heading 1 should be for the most important heading, generally the chapter title.
  • Then use Heading 2 for the first subsection level, and so on.

View Non-Fiction Structure

There are two ways to view the structure you have set up.

The first is to use the Find Tool on the home page, which is at the far right of the menu bar.

  • Click Find. A sidebar will come up on the left.
  • Click the Headings tab on the far left of the sidebar.
  • You may need to click the arrows to see your full structure.
  • Clicking on any of the headings takes you to that spot in the manuscript.

The second is to insert a complete table of contents (TOC) at the front of the book. This will allow you to see your structure in a larger space.

  • Click your cursor on the spot where you want to insert the TOC.
  • Click the Reference tab on the menu.
  • Click the “Table of Contents” icon
  • Click one of the automatic tables. The TOC will appear.
  • If you need more levels, click the “Table of Contents” icon again and select “Custom Table of Contents.” A box will pop up.
  • Select the number of levels you need from the drop down menu at the bottom of the page. Click OK.
  • It will ask you if you want to update the TOC. Click yes and the change will be made.


There you have it! An easy way to determine if your book structure makes sense.

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Helping authors structure their books is part of my editing services. Contact me today to discuss your next project!


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