Ensuring that Word TOCs create Hyperlinks in Acrobat

TOC Picture

Not long ago, I received the following email from a large law firm which was creating some internal documentation:

I am having trouble converting a Table of Contents in Word to PDF so that all the hyperlinks work. I have all the settings checked in the Acrobat PDF Maker, but no links are being created in the resulting TOC in the PDF. Help!

I did some research on this and it turned out to be an easily fixable issue in Word itself.


Microsoft Word’s TOC function creates hyperlinks to Headings found in the Word file.

Acrobat provides two ways to create PDF from Word:

  1. Adobe PDF Print driver
    Use this print driver to create a PDF from any application that can print
  2. Adobe PDF Maker
    The special integration Acrobat installs into Microsoft Word that offers additional functionality such as bookmark creation and hyperlink creation.

You will need the latter to convert Word TOC hyperlinks to PDF hyperlinks.

The PDF Maker for Word won’t create links in these two situations:

  • You’ve unchecked “Create Hyperlinks” in the PDF Maker settings
    (It’s on by default, so this should not normally be an issue unless you changed it)
  • The TOC in Word is not set to create hyperlinks
    It usually isn’t, so you’ll need to change this setting!

How do I create a Table of Contents in Word to begin with?

First, apply Word’s built-in Heading styles to the headings in your text. (Headings 1, Heading 2, etc.)

Word 2007 and 2010

References > Table of Contents > choose an option from the menu

In Word 2003 and earlier

Insert > Reference > Tables and Indexes. Click on the Table of Contents Tab. Click OK.


Ensuring that Word Creates Hyperlinks for TOC Elements

You need to tell Word to create hyperlinks for TOC elements. The instructions below are for Word 2010, but they should also work for Word 2007. The process is much the same for earlier versions of Word.

  1. Click anywhere inside the Word TOC to select it.
    All the text in the TOC should highlight as below:
  2. Right-click on the highlighted text and choose Edit Field:
    Edit Field for Word TOC
  3. Word’s Field window opens.
    A) From the list on the left, choose TOC
    B) Click the Table of Contents button
    Edit Field Window for TOC in Word
  4. Click the "Use Hyperlinks instead of Page Numbers" checkbox.

Making the TOC Look like Hyperlinks

You might have noticed that the TOC elements in the screen capture above look like web hyperlinks.

I believe it is a good practice to ensure that hyperlinked elements in the PDF are evident to the reader of the document. You can change the appearance of the TOC elements in Word in the Table of Contents window in Word. Here’s how:

  1. In the Table of Contents window, click the Modify . . . button.
    Click the Modify button to change the Word TOC style
  2. The Style Window opens.
    A) Select a TOC level from the list
    B) Click the Modify button
    Style window for Word TOC
  3. The Modify Stylet window opens.
    Set the font color to Blue and click the OK button.
    Set style to Blue for the TOC heading
  4. Repeat Step 3 above for all the TOC levels used in your document.
    By default, Word only uses three levels for the TOC, so you probably only need to change theTOC1, TOC2 and TOC3 styles.
  5. Click OK twice.
  6. Word will ask if you want to replace the TOC. Click OK.
    TOC Replacement Warning dialog screen capture

More Word TOC Tricks

Here is a link to Word TOC resource that might helpful to those of you who want to more fully customize your TOC in Word:

Using Switches to choose Separators for TOC Elements

40 Responses to Ensuring that Word TOCs create Hyperlinks in Acrobat

  1. Deborah says:

    Cool trick! Not many legal professionals even know that TOC entries can be hyperlinked within Word, so this just takes it a step further. Thanks to @orelawpracmgmt for alerting me to this blog post — I’ll be passing it along to my own readers.

  2. Kyle says:

    What about for doing this process in Acrobat Pro for Mac, in either v 9 or X?
    ——- Rick’s Reply ——-
    Adobe doesn’t provide a PDF Maker for Mac, so that is not an option.

    • Does that mean in Acrobat Pro for Mac you cannot create a PDF with Distiller from Pages or Word that preserves hyperlinks (to an external website)? Is the only work around adding the URL’s in the PDF and then re-saving the PDF file?
      ——- Rick’s Reply ——-
      I don’t know about Pages (don’t have it), but I could not find a way to create a PDF from Word Mac 2011 that includes hyperlinks. If you use a fully qualified hyperlink (e.g. http://www.adobe.com) Acrobat will automatically add links to the document. On the Windows side, Microsoft’s own basic PDF generation can do this, but apparently they left that out on the Mac.

      • Paul Charlesworth says:

        TOC’s created in Pages 09 and converted to PDF by any method seem to have functioning links, which suggests the problem is Microsoft’s. However, that functionality is now missing from Safari and Mail, so I have to wonder what Apple is up to as well.

        I am not sure why companies are removing this functionality when we are supposed to be moving to electronic documents.

        • Rick Borstein says:

          Word Mac 2011 does not have any program interface that allows third parties to directly control the application. While Word on the Mac does offer AppleScript support, it doesn’t offer what Adobe needs to build the equivalent of our PDF Makers on the Windows side.

  3. Alison says:

    With the federal courts moving to PDF/a, you would lose the hyperlink in the PDF/a conversion though, is that correct?
    — Rick’s Reply—
    No, they are retained, but they are not actionable when you are in PDF/A View Mode. That may change in the future.

  4. John More says:

    I see that Acrobat.com does not create hyperlinks in the PDF document when converted from a Word Document that DOES have Hyperlinks in the TOC.

    This seems to be a bit unexpected – one wold have thought that Adobe would have been consistent in this respect!
    ————- Rick’s Reply————–
    We changed the way that works to work the same way Word does in this respect. See: http://blogs.adobe.com/acrolaw/2011/03/ensuring-that-word-tocs-create-hyperlinks-in-acrobat/

  5. Tessa says:

    Is there any way to create a ToC in MS Word for Mac so that the entries are hyperlinked to the content? It happens automatically if the doc is created on a PC but this incredibly useful functionality appears to be missing from the Mac version.

    PLEASE can anyone help? The only fix I’ve found so far was for an open office version and the functionality is different in this software so it doesn’t work on my Mac.

    It seems like such a small thing, but it would make such a huge difference to anyone reading the guides and reports we produce.



    • Rick Borstein says:

      Not on the Mac, sorry. Microsoft did not provide any application program interface for Adobe to do so. You can use Acrobat.com to convert the file on our server which will work. The first five conversion are free.

      • RTA says:

        I went to Acrobat.com to try the conversion of a Word file to a PDF that retains hyperlinks in the TOC and integrated text. However, it appears that the only way to try it is to subscribe and pay for a month. There was no ‘try it free’ feature for PDF Convert. I don’t want to spend any money to just see if it works.

        • Rick Borstein says:

          Sorry, we used to have a free trial for up to 5 documents, but I guess that is no longer available. I’ll ping one of my contacts to see what I can find out.

  6. Dwb says:

    How is this even possible, in this day and age, I can’t get hyperlinks and accessible tagged PDFs out of Word 2011 on Mac using Adobe Acrobat… really disappointed.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Microsoft does not provide any application program interface for Office on the Mac. We need that API to create the rich PDF you need. Unfortunately, it just isn’t possible.

  7. Fred says:

    I understand the TOC process, thanks for that, but am having problems getting normal word hyperlinks to convert into the pdf when I print.

    Using Word 2007/Acrobat Professional 7.0

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Acrobat 7 isn’t compatible with Word 2007. The PDF Maker won’t work in the application, so you won’t be able to use it. No links are generated when you print to PDF, so the PDF Maker is required if you want your TOC to work in the PDF. You’ll need at least Acrobat 8.1 for compatibility.

  8. Patti says:

    Thank you so much for this posting!!! I kept looking for something wrong with my Acrobat settings and was very frustrated until I found this post! My file works perfect now!

  9. Tom says:

    So what’s the point of buying Acrobat Pro for the Mac if it won’t generate hyperlinks from Word?

    I don’t necessarily blame Adobe here since Microsoft has to emit the information from Word. It doesn’t necessarily have to be through an API, though.

    To say “it just isn’t possible” is wrong. It’s possible, but it takes willingness on the part of both parties.

    This is just plain stupid.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      PDF Creation is only one small aspect of Acrobat. We can’t compel Microsoft to take on the major engineering it would take to enable this feature. Interestingly, on the Windows side, Word can natively output to PDF with links, but not on the Mac.

  10. Raj Patel says:

    It seems that at a whim a change has been which previously worked when PDFed now does not :-(.

    While using Word 2003 and Adobe PDF Maker 7.x, we had the toc with only the page numbers linked. When this document was PDFed it worked and provided the links in the PDFed document. We do/did this on a regular basis with up 10/15 documents a day – so we know it works.

    Now, We have to change the setting just because Adobe PDF Maker has changed the way it works :-(.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      I was told by our engineers that this was due to a change in the Word programming interface.

  11. Ari says:

    How can we get TOCs in PDF with hyperlinked page numbers – like we have in Word? The instructions above seem to offer either links OR page numnbers but not both….

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Word should be able to do both, just edit your Field Codes. This is a Word question.

  12. Ari G. says:

    I use Adobe Acrobat X Pro to create PDFs and use Word 2010. I have the “Use Hyperlinks instead of Page Numbers” checkbox selected. The TOC entries are clickable links in Word (when I do Ctrl + click) but are not in the PDF.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Are you using the PDF Makers and do you have them set to create hyperlinks? You might also try updating the TOC in Word.

  13. I use Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro to create PDF’s from Word 2010 documents. I have all check boxes marked as indicated but the no links within the Word document are retained in the PDF created. This problem did not occur prior to updating to Word 2010.

    I alse tried recreating the TOC but the links were still not carried over from Word to the PDF created.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      You need Acrobat X for compatibility with Office 2010. Acrobat 9 came out more than two years before Office 2010, so you will need to upgrade.

  14. Noranda Brown says:

    I had the same issue and this fixed it right up! Thank you so much!

  15. Ian says:

    So for those of us on Macs, can we setup the actual links for the TOC and prepare the document… then take it to a PC and export it to PDF? Or does the TOC have to be created in PC Word? There are 2 computers in the house with Word, it’s just that the PC is an aging Laptop, so the Mac is a lot nicer when it comes to formatting a large document. Thanks.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      Adobe only ships PDF Makers for Word on Windows. Microsoft does not offer any Application Program Interface for Office Mac, so it isn’t possible for Adobe to create the PDF Makers on the Mac.

  16. Dave says:

    Is there a way to create a link within text in a Word document that links to a specific area of text in a PDF document? This seems like it should be fairly straightforward but I cannot find a way to accomplish it.

  17. Blork says:

    I’m coming to this late, but I want to toss in a couple of points. For context, I’m in the process of transitioning from a Windows environment to a Mac environment so I can more easily collaborate with my colleagues (they all use Macs).

    I was shocked to learn that TOC hyperlinks don’t work on a Mac, apparently under any circumstances. This might be a deal-breaker for me. (I won’t bore you with that.)

    As an FYI, I want to mention that updating the TOC fields in Windows can restore the hyperlinks in the case of a Word document that’s coming from the Mac side. I’ve only tested one variation of the scenario, but for those who are wondering (such as Ian), here it is:

    - Word file created in Word 2010 (Windows). TOC links work when the file is PDFed.
    - Open the file in Word 2011 (Mac). Update the TOC. Re-open the file in Word 2010 on Windows and create a PDF: TOC links do *not* work (because TOC was updated on Mac).
    - Re-update the TOC on Windows. Re-PDF. Bingo! TOC links come back.

    So I might not migrate to Mac after all (even though I’m using Apple hardware). I work in documentation, and for me to create PDFs that do not have working links in the TOC and cross-references is like being a chef who can’t even boil an egg.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      I have both platforms, but Office is significantly better and more stable on Windows. The only workaround for Mac users is to use the Adobe CreatePDF service. Essentially, you upload your Word file to Adobe, we convert it on Windows, and send it back to you. It’s not free, but for Mac folks who have advanced PDF conversion needs, it might help. See http://www.acrobat.com/createpdf/en/home.html

      • Lu says:

        Rick, What is the point of paying that extra money if once the document is updated to the CreatePDF adobe website- the TOC its not workable. I am currently a subscriber but once I upload a document created on Mac for PDF conversion only the hyperlinks created throughout the document work. The TOC does not. Am I doing something wrong? or does it simply not work at all, even via Adobe CreatePDF.

        • Rick Borstein says:

          I think you are on the Mac. Because OfficeMac offers no developer hooks, the PDFMaker on the Mac pales in comparison to the one on the PC which ties tightly to Word. If you create your TOC in Word and upload the Word file to our CreatePDF service, it converts the file on the Windows platform preserving the links.

  18. Shelley says:

    You are right, it was simple! I followed your steps 1-4 and it is working. THANKS!!!

  19. nsj says:

    hey is it possible to provide link automatically to table of contents based on page number in Acrobat Pro. i know manually we can do it.. but my document is very huge thats y looking for a automated process.. actually i have created table of contents using RD field as i have used sub documents and placed it under same folder. link dont work either in word or PDF. Is it possible in word or PDF to add link for these topics automatically.

  20. Rohit Sankhe says:

    In case you have upgraded your Office to 2010 / 2013 there is direct option to save the document as PDF.
    1. Click on Save As
    2. Select File Type as PDF
    3. Click on Options button below the file type dropdown list
    4. Select the Option (Create Bookmarks using) – > Headings
    5. Select (Document Structure Tags for accessibility)
    6. Save the file and …. You are done….

    You will not only have the TOC links embedded , but also the bookmarks will be added in the PDF
    for easy navigation using the left hand side navigation pane in Acrobat Reader.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      That works OK in most cases but that feature is not available on the Mac, fyi. Also, Office will rasterize in OpenType fonts in the document. For the record, Word has the same problem if you don’t ensure that the entries are set as hyperlinks.