Difference Between Table of Contents and Index (With Table)

Writing and publishing a piece is a process that requires the writer to put effort into making a readable compilation.

A written piece of information goes through a lot of editing. Every single page arranged to make sense, with so many pages, chapters, titles, words, the arrangement is all that plays a role.

An average document/novel or a professional one differs one in the content and secondly how the formatting is. Keeping a reader engaged and help him read without difficulty in finding what he wants to search makes a content table and an index a requirement.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” they say, and it’s apt. One can judge a book by the content it covers, the chapters that are covered can easily be analyzed through just a page of content or an index. This table of contents and index provides a road map not just to a reader but helps the writer to understand if he is missing a part.

Table of Contents vs Index

The difference between the Table of Contents and Index is the way in which the information varies. The Table of Contents is a list of chapters and parts the book is divided into, an Index, however, contains all the necessary information within each of the chapters or parts.


Comparison Table Between Table of Contents and Index

Parameter of ComparisonTable of ContentsIndex
DefinitionA table which captures the essence of a whole written piece, it encapsulates the chapter-wise division.The index carries useful information within each chapter, important words, lines with the associated page number to it.
LocationIt’s at the very beginning, after the cover and the title page.The index is always in the end, so it doesn’t interfere with the flow of the book but helps as a guide whenever required.
RequirementWritten material should be of more than 10 pages to have a content table.There are no specific requirements to have an index list.


What is Table of Contents?

Table of contents (usually written just ‘Contents’ in a book, or a document) is a page, in some cases consisting of 2 pages, which contains the information of the sections the book is divided in.

It is a list of the chapters covered with their commencing page numbers placed at the very beginning of the book before the chapters just after the book title and the necessary details like copyright notices, in some cases the abstract. A book containing different authors, the names appear in the table and helps the reader consume the content they prefer.

The arrangement is based on the chronology the writer has set and is independent of the alphabetical sequence. It helps to understand the quality of the book and whether it’s worth giving a try, it organizes the parts and even helps the writer in knowing the parts missing or uncovered topics.

In the online content table, one can easily reach the page associated with the required chapter that is just a click away.


What is Index?

The indexis a record list of details required to help the reader understand the written material better and acts as a guide to simultaneously find that particular topic without giving the effort of reading it whole.

A quality index should provide an easy key to find topics, understand references, or any term with respect to the page number. It’s at the end of the book and doesn’t interfere with the flow and sequence. It can be easily accessed by turning all the pages.

The information is arranged sequentially, that is, all the parts are alphabetically arranged and covers each main part within the chapters placed in the content table. The index can vary in length and depends on the size and the number of pages. Ideally, 4-6% of the book pages are considered a good length of an Index.

There are many guidelines while forming an index, thus many people hire an indexer. Some of the important ones are :

  1. One should work on an index only once the document or a book is completely edited.
  2. Information must be precised.
  3. Use of lowercase letters and nouns that the reader would likely search.

Main Differences Between Table of Contents and Index

  1. The main difference between the Table of Contents and Index is that the table of contents consists of main headings, titles, and page numbers associated with it whereas an Index lists briefly the key elements, important words, concepts, etc from each chapter.
  2. Table of Contents is found at the very beginning before any chapter however Index is kept at the end.
  3. Minimum 10 pages are required to technically form a content list, one can skip if the material is less than 10 pages but Index is a definitely required despite the pages
  4. The content table follows no alphabetical order as it just contains the sequence in which the author has written it, an index is independent of the content list and follows an order.
  5. The table of the content doesn’t exceed more than 2 pages whereas an Index can be long and detailed.



A reader might like the cover of a book but what keeps him engaged throughout and read more than a few pages is the content it consists of.

A content table encapsulates the essence of all those hundreds, thousands of pages in maximum 2 pages, thus, saves time and effort of finding the right choice, the chapters covered and page numbers they start with help in easy access.

The list at the end of the book carries the required information and key points synchronized in alphabetical order which makes a go-to source to understand the context without breaking the reader’s flow.

Both help the reader to navigate easily even the complex contents.


  1. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1612948/
  2. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/1234052/
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