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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual by John Broughton

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Improving the Table of Contents

Getting section headings right, as described above, makes the article’s table of contents—generated automatically from those headings—concise and readable. You can take further steps to improve a TOC by reducing its length, or changing where it’s located and how text flows around it.

Reducing the Length of the TOC

Long tables of contents defeat the whole purpose of a table of contents, which is to provide a quick understanding of what the article is about. When TOCs get really long, readers may even have to scroll down to read the whole thing. Some readers won’t realize that they can either click the small Hide link to shrink the TOC, or click the first link to jump to the top of the article’s body.

A quick sampling in late 2007 of four weeks of articles featured on the Main Page found that the average number of lines in the table of contents was a succinct 16. Only four featured articles had TOCs with more than 24 lines. Since featured articles are those judged to be the best by editors, a 16-line TOC is a good goal to shoot for.

You have two approaches to getting excess lines out of a TOC—reduce the number of sections and subsections, or use one of Wikipedia’s technical gizmos. Cutting down on headings is the sure-fire way to succeed, although using one of the gizmos, if applicable, may be faster.

Fewer sections and subsections

If you have sections or subsections that are very short, you can combine them. To eliminate subsections, remove subheadings and ...

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