Word 2007 for Writers: Part 3 – Master Documents and Outlines
A book can be an unwieldy thing to write, especially on older (read: slower) hardware, and even more especially if you have illustrations, charts, and other graphic material in your file. As the document gets bigger, it gets slower and slower to open the document, to find your place, and to scroll back and forth to see what you’ve done.
Fortunately, Word has long had a little-used feature that allows you to work with separate “chunks” of content and compile them into a single final document. It’s called a “master document” and is a pretty straight-forward but powerful tool. Simply put, a master document is a single document that pulls content in from several other documents, like individual chapters.
In the past, people have had some trouble with master documents, and it’s easy to see why: you’re asking Word to put together documents with different preferences, formatting options, and other settings, and Word has to make some difficult choices. If you’re using consistent style sets across your documents, though, much of Word’s work is done for it. And since Word 2007 makes styles so much easier to work with, many of the problems users of previous editions of Word had should be alleviated.
Creating a Master Document in Word 2007
While you can make a master document at any point in the writing process, it’s best to start your project intending to use a master document. Create a single folder for your document, and save all the pieces into it. You’ll be telling the master document where to look on your hard drive for the pieces it needs to put together, and if you decide to move them halfway through the project, you’ll confuse your master document.
Once you’ve created your project folder, open Word and create a master document. You can start from scratch or use an existing document — but since you’ve planned out your project in advance (right?), I’m going to assume you’re starting from scratch. Go to the “View” tab and select “Outline view”. The ribbon bar will change, giving you options for master documents. Click “Show Document” — the menu will change again, opening the options for master documents.
From there, you can “Create” new sub-documents, or “Insert” existing documents as sub-documents. Essentially, you’re outlining your project, with each big section — prefaces, introductions, chapters, chapter sub-sections, even big chunks of text — going into a separate document.
Next to the grey circle/minus sign icon, type a section heading — let’s say, a chapter title. Hit “Return”. Type another section heading. Hit “return”. And so on, fleshing out your outline. You can use the tab key to indent levels that will become sub-section headings and sub-sub-section headings.
Place your cursor in any heading (or sub- or sub-sub-heading) and hit the “Create” button and the heading will become an editable space. Any text you type next to the bullet point will be added to the sub-document. Double-clicking on the little “text” icon next to the header will open the sub-document, which you can edit independently. When you save the new document (you’ll be given a normal “Save” dialogue — save it into your project folder) the master document will be updated with the changes you made to the sub-document.
Placing your cursor on a heading and click the “Insert” button will allow you to select any document and insert it into your master document. I suggest copying any already-existing documents into your project folder first, so there’s no confusion about what files to edit or where everything is.
When you hit “Close Outline View”, you’ll return to the normal page layout and see your document looking like any other document.
Outlining a Document in Word 2007
You can also use the “Outline” view to create an outline of any Word document, as long as you’re using styles. Word will convert any Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. styles into appropriate level headings, and stick the paragraphs under them into the outline as separate bullet points. You can, of course, make changes, add sections, and so on from the “Outline” view.
You can convert your document into a master document, but you have to be careful of the text. Selecting a heading and all of the text under it, then hit “Create”. Or select a heading, hit “Create”, and drag and drop the text into the box around the new sub-document entry.
The “Outline” view can be a powerful tool, but it’s incredibly under-used. That’s understandable, since it is not entirely intuitive — it doesn’t work quite like you’d expect an outliner to work (and like most outlining programs work) and it’s not exactly pretty. Still, once you get a hang of it, there’s a lot to do with it, especially if you’re comfortable with master documents.