I've been getting a lot of questions lately about the best way to format a Table of Contents (TOC) in InDesign. Here is the best way to create and format a simple Table of Contents.
1. Create a frame the width that you want your TOC to be.
2. Type the first TOC entry in the frame, followed by a shift-tab, followed by the page number for that entry, followed by a return. Repeat this for each TOC entry. The shift-tab creates a "right indent tab", a special kind of tab stop that causes the text after the tab stop to always right-align with the right edge of the frame. If you have hidden characters displayed (Type > Show Hidden Characters), the right indent tab will display like a regular tab character but with a vertical line through it, as shown below.
3. It's easy to add a dot leader before each page number, to help guide the reader's eye across the page from the TOC entry to the page number. Select all the lines of the TOC with the Type tool, and choose Type > Tabs to display the Tabs ruler on the screen.
4. Click in the white space above the ruler increments in the Tabs ruler to place a tab stop somewhere near the right edge of the ruler. With this tab stop selected, type a period or a period and a space in the Leader field in the Tabs ruler. (It doesn't really matter where you put the tab stop, or whether it is a left, right, center or decimal tab stop. InDesign CS2 and later uses the leader attributes of the last tab stop before the right indent for any right indent tabs that are created in the text.)
The beauty of this method is that you can change the width of the frame, or the size of the text, and the page numbers will still right-align neatly with the right edge of the frame.
Of course, for long TOCs, you should learn how to use Paragraph Styles and InDesign's automatic Table of Contents feature. But the best practices described here for formatting the resulting TOC still apply.
In the example above, I don't like the way the multi-line TOC entries crowd the page numbers near the right edge of the frame. Next week, in part two, I'll describe an obscure feature that will automatically prevent this from happening.