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Outlines are useful for creating business documents, lengthy tutorials, and even books. With Microsoft Word, you can use outline view for laying your major points in a structured format.

Using Outline View in Microsoft Word

To get started, you simply enable outline view by going to the View tab and selecting “Outline” in the Views section of the ribbon.

Unlike print or web layout view in Word, outline view comes with its own set of tools in the ribbon. On the Outlining tab, these allow you to work with your outline levels and any documents that you want to embed.

Outline Tools

By default, you’ll start with Level 1, and you’ll always know which level you’re using by looking at the “Outline Level” drop-down box on the left of the ribbon. You can also use the drop-down list to change your current level.

Outline Level drop-down

On each side of the Outline Level box, you have arrows. The ones on the right allow you to decrease or demote one level (single arrow) or as body text (double arrow). The arrows on the left let you increase or promote one level (single arrow) or to the highest level (double arrow).

Outline Level arrows

So you can use the Outline Level drop-down box or the arrows on either side to switch to the level you need.

Below the level tools, you have some to rearrange items. With the up and down arrows, you can move items in the direction you need. This lets you easily rearrange your points.

Use the arrows to rearrange outline items

The plus and minus signs let you expand and collapse levels. For lengthy outlines, this can help you collapse levels that you don’t need at the moment and expand those that you do.

Use plus and minus to expand and collapse levels

Another convenient tool for focusing on particular levels is the “Show Level” drop-down list. The list lets you pick which levels you want to view. For instance, if you choose Level 3 in the drop-down box, you’ll see Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 only. This hides everything from Level 4, Level 5, and so on.

Show Level drop-down list

The other two options in the Outline Tools section are “Show Text Formatting” and “Show First Line Only.” If you prefer to view your outline without the formatting of your document for a plain appearance, uncheck that box. If you have lengthy items within your levels and only want to see the first line, check that box.

Show formatting and first line only check boxes

Master Document Tools

To include subdocuments, click “Show Document” in the ribbon to expand that section of controls.

Show Document

This is handy if you have, for example, a business document and want to include a separate file like a contract, vendor agreement, or statement of work.

Click “Insert” if you have a saved file that you wish to browse for and embed, or “Create” if you prefer to make one on the fly.

Create or Insert a subdocument

Once the subdocument is embedded, use the “Collapse Subdocuments” button to collapse the document’s content and only show a link to it.

Collapse Subdocuments

This button then changes to “Expand Subdocuments” to quickly expand that item and allow you to view its content again.

Expand Subdocuments

The remaining options in the Master Document section help you manage the subdocuments you include. They are as follows:

  • Unlink: This removes the link to the subdocument and copies the text to the current document.
  • Merge: If you’re using multiple subdocuments, you can merge all content from each into the first subdocument.
  • Split: If you want to separate subdocument content into multiple documents, you can create a split at each insertion point.
  • Lock Document: To keep changes from moving into subdocuments, you can lock the document.
Note: Only applicable items will be available in this section of the ribbon. For instance, if you do not have multiple subdocuments embedded, Merge and Split will be grayed out.

Master Document tools

Exiting Outline View in Microsoft Word

You can continue to use the outline view for the life of your document if you like. But if you prefer to close the outline, you can see your document in your default view at any time. Click “Close Outline View” in the ribbon.

You’ll then see your outline in a collapsible and expandable format using print layout, web layout, or read mode in Word. Use the arrows next to the headings to collapse or expand the levels you created with the outline.

Collapsed outline in Print Layout

When creating an outline is the best method for composing your document, report, or book in Microsoft Word, outline view gives you the tools that you need.

Profile Photo for Sandy Writtenhouse Sandy Writtenhouse
With her B.S. in Information Technology, Sandy worked for many years in the IT industry as a Project Manager, Department Manager, and PMO Lead. She learned how technology can enrich both professional and personal lives by using the right tools. And, she has shared those suggestions and how-tos on many websites over time. With thousands of articles under her belt, Sandy strives to help others use technology to their advantage.
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