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MS Word: Creating an Index for Your Document

I find that one of the most useful things in a long document, textbook or reference manual is the index.

Searching through pages and pages of stuff for the information I need is not high on my list of things to do on any day.

Need something specific… it’s off to the index for me.

If you’ve created a Word document that could use an index then the thought of creating one manually –  finding entries, locating all pages each occurs on, setting up formatting for index, actually typing out all the entries –  could drive you into a dark corner with your head down and the mantra of “No… No… No…” going through your head.

You might like to know that when you use what Word has to offer for indexing documents it’s really not a big deal and can truly be done in a fraction of the time you’d anticipate.

In all likelihood it’s probably best to index your document once it’s completed so that you’re not constantly interrupting your train of thought when writing.

Once it’s done our process is simple.

1. Mark the text to be used as index entries

2. Choose an index format so that Word can create one from the marked text items.

Yeah, in general it really is those two things and it’s time to get started.

Start by selecting a word or words that should be an entry in your index.

Now we’re off to the References tab, Mark Entry button. (You can also use the key combination of Alt + Shift + X)


This opens the Mark Index Entry dialog.


The selected text is already in the Main entry field.

As you can see, there are fields for additional information such as cross referencing, but we’re going to focus on the basics today.

We’ve got the main entry text and at the bottom you’ll find a section where you can choose the formatting for the page numbers used in the index.

Once those are set it’s a matter of actually marking the text.

You have two choices:

Mark: marks the currently selected text only.

Mark All: marks all occurrences of the selected text in the document.

At this point you’ll find that the look of your document changes on the screen in two maybe startling ways but neither of them affects the printed product so don’t get worried.

First, the usual non-printing characters are displayed and second the entry is now followed by a notation that the text is marked for indexing.


Don’t worry, the index marking is also a non-printing character so when you’re done and turn them off (Home tab) you won’t see it anymore.

The Mark Index Entry dialog box can remain open while you edit the document which means that once it’s open you can add multiple entries without starting over each time.

Simply click back into the document, select different text to add an additional index entry and then click on the dialog box.

The main entry field will change to the new text allowing you to mark it as well.

Just like the shampoo bottle says… lather, rinse and repeat.

OK… we’re not going to lather here, so it’s more like select, mark and repeat… but you get the idea.

With everything marked and the dialog box closed you’re ready to create the index.

First step… place your cursor where the index should be created in the document… usually on a new page at the end but then again, it is your document and up to you.

Now we’re back to the References tab to click the Insert Index button.

As you can see, the dialog box that opens is pretty straight forward. You can select an index format along with a few other settings such as page number placement and number of columns.


When it’s to your liking, (the upper left pane will preview your choices as you make changes) click OK.

Voila! Index… your entries… it’s Word’s sweat and tears used to format and create it… thank goodness!

Oh, and here’s one huge benefit to using Word’s indexing as opposed to manually creating your own…

…well, that is besides the hours and hours of work you could save…

When you edit the document you can use the Update Index button and Word will change all the page numbers to reflect the document’s current status. (Click into the index to activate the button.)

Truth be told it seems like a lot when the instructions are written out but in actuality once you get in there and try it’s not bad at all.

Considering the alternatives it’s an absolute walk in the park on a beautiful day.

~ April