Creating Master Documents and Subdocuments

If you've learned how to use outlines, you're halfway to understanding master documents too. Master documents closely resemble outlines, and you control them in Outline view, using the buttons on Word's Outlining toolbar. The primary difference: You're outlining material that comes from several documents rather than one.

To learn more about outlining, see Chapter 18, "Outlining: Practical Techniques for Organizing Any Document," p. 619.

You can create master documents in two ways:

  • You can do it from scratch, by outlining your document and then dividing it into subdocuments (see Figure 19.1).

    Figure 19.1. Creating a master document from scratch.


  • You can make separate existing documents part of your master document (see Figure 19.2).

    Figure 19.2. Creating a master document from existing documents.


Whenever possible, you're better off creating your master documents from scratch. It's quick, it's easy, and you have total control over all the subdocuments you create. If you start from scratch, it's also much easier to maintain consistency throughout the editing process. Here's why:

  • You usually don't have to worry about users working from different templates. Because all your subdocuments automatically share the same template, they also share the same styles, AutoText entries, and macros. In addition to promoting consistency, this can make your master documents more reliable.

  • You don't have to worry about tracking the locations of your subdocuments. You can just place them all in the same folder on your local hard disk or shared network drive, and tell people to leave them there.

  • You usually don't have to worry about people inadvertently editing the wrong version of the file. There is only one: the subdocument you created.

However, you may not always have the luxury of starting from scratch. You may be asked to build on existing text?updating it, including new topics, broadening coverage with new chapters. So Word makes it easy to incorporate existing documents into your master document.

You may also find yourself taking a hybrid approach: outlining the entire master document from scratch, inserting existing documents that contain some of the content you need, and reorganizing the master document to reflect the contents you've added from existing documents.

Finally, remember that a master document can contain anything a regular document can, while containing subdocuments at the same time. So you might choose to create and edit some of your text in your master document, and use subdocuments for only the chapters others are creating.

Creating a New Master Document from Scratch

Because a master document is simply a document that contains subdocuments, adding subdocuments to any normal document transforms it into a master document.

So, to create a master document from scratch, start by opening a blank document and clicking the Outline View button on the status bar (or choosing View, Outline). Word switches into Outline view and displays the Outlining toolbar, which includes both outlining tools and master document tools.


Prior to Word 2000, you were required to select Master Document view to work with master documents. In Word 2003, master document tools are built into Outline view so there is no Master Document option on the View menu.

There is still, however, a Master Document view. You can access it by clicking the Master Document View button on the Outlining toolbar. Using Master Document view makes the borders between your subdocuments easier to see and work with.

Figure 19.3 shows the master document tools at the right side of the Outlining toolbar. You'll find tools for inserting, removing, and managing the subdocuments that are the components of a master document. Each tool is explained in Table 19.1.

Figure 19.3. The Master Document toolbar includes Word's tools for managing subdocuments and master documents.



The Master Document toolbar buttons appear grayed out if all your subdocuments are collapsed, or if they are expanded but locked to prevent them from being edited.

Table 19.1. Master Document Buttons on the Outlining Toolbar


What It Does

Update TOC

Updates a table of contents in your document

Go to TOC

Moves the cursor to the table of contents in your document

Master Document View

Toggles between Master Document view and displaying subdocuments as sections within the same document

Expand/Collapse Subdocuments

Toggles between showing all the contents of a master document and showing hyperlinks to the subdocuments in place of the subdocuments themselves

Create Subdocument

Creates a new subdocument from selected text, or creates multiple subdocuments from text selections that incorporate several headings of the same level

Remove Subdocument

Eliminates a subdocument and places its text in the master document

Insert Subdocument

Inserts an existing document as a subdocument in the current master document

Merge Subdocument

Combines two or more subdocuments into one

Split Subdocument

Divides one subdocument into two, at the insertion point

Lock Document

Toggles between locking and unlocking a subdocument

Now that you've opened a new document and displayed it in Outline view, you can create and organize the outline of your document, using Word's outlining tools, just as you would if you weren't intending to create a master document. (See Chapter 18 for details on outlining.)


If your outline needs to be approved, get the approvals you need before you divide it into subdocuments?and especially before you delegate those subdocuments to individual contributors.

Creating Subdocuments

After you have the outline the way you want it, you can divide it into subdocuments. If you set up your document properly, Word can organize your entire document into subdocuments with one click. Of course, you can also set up individual subdocuments manually, if you prefer.

The quickest and most intuitive way to set up subdocuments is to create an outline in which every first-level heading?in other words, every paragraph formatted with the Heading 1 style?corresponds to a new subdocument.

For example, if you're writing a manual or book, you might format chapter titles with the Heading 1 style so that each subdocument you create corresponds to a separate chapter. Of course, these subdocuments contain all the headings and body text subordinate to the Heading 1 paragraph with which they start.


When Word creates subdocuments, it places continuous section breaks between them. Therefore, after you've established subdocuments, you need to be aware of how each section handles headers, footers, and page numbering. It's usually best to establish these settings globally for your whole document before you divide the document into subdocuments.

Because the section breaks Word inserts are continuous section breaks, you may want to add manual page breaks at the end of each section to start the next section on a new page.

To create a subdocument for every Heading 1 style in your document, select all the sections that include the Heading 1 main headings you want to break into subdocuments. (Be sure to select all the subordinate text under the Heading 1 subheadings you are dividing.) Then, click the Create Subdocument button on the Master Document toolbar.


Don't use Heading 1 style for any block of text you don't want set apart in its own subdocument.

Word divides the entire document into subdocuments automatically, starting each new subdocument at the point where it finds another paragraph formatted as Heading 1.

The first time you save the document after dividing it, each subdocument will be saved with a different name. After you divide the documents, the text is stored in each subdocument rather than the master document.

To learn more about how subdocuments are saved, see "Saving a Master Document," p. 663.


You can collapse or expand subdocuments by pressing Ctrl+\. This is the only master document tool with a corresponding keyboard shortcut.

Creating Multiple Subdocuments from Lower-Level Headings

Although you're most likely to use Heading 1 styles as the dividing lines between your subdocuments, you can divide subdocuments by lower-level headings as well to share smaller chunks of your document for editing by colleagues. You can select any group of headings, as long as

  • Your selection includes more than one heading of the same level.

  • The first heading in your selection is styled with the heading level you want to use as your dividing line between subdocuments.

For example, you could select all the Heading 2 paragraphs (and subordinate text) beneath a single Heading 1. If you created subdocuments based on such a selection, Word would provide a separate subdocument for each Heading 2.

When might you divide a document based on lower-level headings? Perhaps you're making a sales proposal that covers a wide range of products, each to be covered in only a page. You can create subdocuments for second- or third-level headings corresponding to each product.


After you create these small, modular subdocuments, you can insert them in future documents as well. As your products are updated, have your product managers revise and resave their subdocuments. You can then include these subdocuments in future proposals and be assured that you're including the most current information about each product.

You might even record macros that automatically insert each subdocument, and attach these macros to a special toolbar so that your salespeople can insert current information about any specific product with a single click.

Creating a Single Subdocument

You don't have to create multiple subdocuments at the same time. You can create a single subdocument from any block of text that includes one top-level heading. For example, if you select a Heading 1 paragraph and all the subordinate headings and text under it, Word creates a single subdocument based on all the headings and text you selected. To do so, select the text you want to incorporate in a subdocument. After the text is selected, click Create Subdocument.


As mentioned earlier, however, if you inadvertently include two Heading 1 paragraphs within your selection, Word creates two corresponding subdocuments. Similarly, if you neglect to include a Heading 1, but include several Heading 2 paragraphs, Word creates separate subdocuments for each Heading 2.


Usually, the quickest way to select text for inclusion in a subdocument is to click the outline symbol next to the highest-level heading you want to use. Word then selects all text subordinate to that heading.

If you want to build a subdocument that doesn't have neat Heading level boundaries, such as including a block of text with multiple Heading 1's, you need to first create the subdocument using just the initial heading level. You can then move elements of your outline around, across subdocument boundaries. Techniques for refining the organization of your subdocuments are covered later in this chapter, in the "Reorganizing a Master Document" section.

Taking a Closer Look at Subdocuments

Within the master document, Word marks the subdocuments you create in two ways (see Figure 19.4). First, text in a subdocument is surrounded by a thin, gray border. Second, a subdocument icon appears at the upper left of the first heading in the subdocument.

Figure 19.4. Text that has been selected as a subdocument is bordered with a gray rectangle; a subdocument icon also appears at its upper left.


In Master Document view, you can select the entire subdocument by clicking this subdocument icon. You can open the subdocument in its own editing window by double-clicking the subdocument icon. Later in this chapter, you'll learn more about organizing, formatting, and editing subdocuments.

When Word creates subdocuments, it separates them by adding continuous section breaks, which are section breaks that start the next section on the same page. As with any section breaks, these allow you to create separate formatting for each section?for example, different margins, paper size, borders, headers and footers, and column arrangements. You can delete the section breaks without damaging your subdocuments, but if you plan to adjust these types of formatting in each section, you should leave them alone.

If you switch to Normal view (see Figure 19.5), you can see the section break markers.

Figure 19.5. In Normal view, Word separates subdocuments with section break markers.


For more information about sections and section formatting, see Chapter 5, "Controlling Page Features," p. 157.

Transforming an Existing Document into a Master Document

Until now, this chapter has discussed creating a new master document from scratch. However, what if you already have a document you want to turn into a master document? Follow these steps:

  1. Open the document and choose View, Outline to display it in Outline view.

  2. Use Word's outline tools to organize the document, if necessary. Ideally, arrange the document so that each first-level heading corresponds to one of the subdocuments you want to create. If the document hasn't used heading styles, consider using Find and Replace, or possibly AutoFormat, to insert them.

  3. Create your subdocuments using one of the methods described in the previous sections. You can create them one at a time by selecting text and clicking the Create Subdocument button on the Master Document toolbar. Or if you've been able to organize your document by first-level headings, select the entire document and click Create Subdocument to create all your subdocuments at the same time.

    Part I: Word Basics: Get Productive Fast
    Part II: Building Slicker Documents Faster
    Part III: The Visual Word: Making Documents Look Great
    Part IV: Industrial-Strength Document Production Techniques
    Part VI: The Corporate Word