A contents page is a list, usually found before the start of any writing, that outlines what is included in a piece of written work.

Most commonly found in books, contents pages (or tables of contents) are hugely important in helping the reader navigate and understand the text they are reading.

Contents pages generally include chapter or section titles and the page number they’re found on, giving the reader crucial information such as where the most relevant chapter for them is, how long each chapter is, and what different sections of the book look like.

Why do we need content pages?

Though only a tiny part of a book, contents pages are one of the most crucial components. In fiction, contents pages might include unique names for each chapter, giving the reader an insight into the story and possibly even persuading them to buy the book – if the titles are exciting enough!

Content pages in non-fiction works, such as textbooks or journals, help the reader determine whether this text is relevant to them and, if so, which sections are most helpful.

Contents pages provide readers with a guide to the book – a roadmap that helps them figure out how to navigate the text to get the most out of it. They also prevent a text from becoming overwhelming by breaking it down into smaller chunks, meaning a reader is less likely to put it down.

Contents pages also make reading in the classroom more accessible, as teachers can direct students to the correct page or chapter using the table of contents for reference.

What should a content page look like?

A good content page should be simple, straightforward, easy to read, and contain all the critical information a reader needs.

It should always include the names of each book section, the title of each chapter, and the page numbers on which each section or chapter begins.

Contents pages should always be laid out like lists, and the chapters and sections should be listed in chronological order. It means you should list your sections and chapters in the same order as they appear in the book.

Occasionally, content pages will include subheadings underneath the chapter or section title. One example of a book this might happen in is a cookbook. For example, the chapter title ‘Desserts’ might have subheadings underneath for the ‘Chocolate Cake Recipe,’ ‘Cheesecake Recipe,’ and ‘Apple Pie Recipe.’

Another example of a time when subheadings might be used is in a textbook or journal where multiple authors have contributed chapters or essays on the same topic.

In this case, the title of the chapter or essay and the author’s name will be included as subheadings under the section title, which would be the topic of the writing.

Some things to remember

  • Page contents are only needed in long writing pieces with multiple sections or chapters. That’s why you generally won’t find one at the start of a short story or poem.
  • If you are writing a content page, remember to keep it clear and organized. For example, list the names of the sections or chapter titles in chronological order, and make sure to include page numbers.
  • Contents pages rely on your work having page numbers to direct the reader to, so don’t forget to include them!
  • Always keep the reader in mind when designing a content page. Think about what they want from the book and what information they need to find it.
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