Working in Outline View: MS Word

Dennis Faas's picture

A reader recently wrote me asking, "What are the main uses of Outline View in MS Word? "

My reply:

I wrote an article on this subject in January for Infopackets and I am going to redo it just for that reader!

Using MS Word's Outline View is just wonderful for very long documents and can save you oodles of time. 


  • You should be familiar with MS Word's styles and headings and make use of them. If you do that, Outline View will allow you to view all of your Headings collapsed to any heading level you desire.
  • Using Outline View is an excellent method to get to a section in your document very quickly.
  • You can restructure your document very quickly and easily using Outline view by simply dragging and dropping a heading to move not just the heading, but all of its associated subheadings and body text as well.

Below is the Infopackets article from January, 2007.

When you have a massive writing project, you've got to organize your thoughts and the first step to getting organized is to create an outline.

To begin, change to Outline view by clicking the Outline View button in the lower left corner of the screen.

Word's Outline view is more than just an outline. It's another way of looking at your document, where the headings in the outline become the headings and subheadings in the documents.

Using the Outline view has several benefits as you will see below:

  1. Using the various headings in the outline automatically formats the headings and subheadings and keeps them consistent through the use of styles.
  2. Using the collapse and expand feature allows you to see the overall progress and organization.
  3. Moving the headings in Outline view is an easy way to rearrange large chunks of text.

Create Headings

  1. Change to Outline view and the Outline toolbar appears.
  2. Change to Outline view. Begin to type the outline with your first major heading.
  3. To indent or demote to the next level subheading, press Tab or click the Demote button.
  4. To unindent or promote to the next higher heading level, press S to Outline view, and the Shift + Tab or click the Promote button. You can also modify the outline structure using the mouse. Drag the symbols to the left of each heading to the left (to promote) or to the right (to demote).

The outline in Outline view shows the subheadings indented below the headings. Each heading has a symbol to the left – either a plug, meaning it has a subheading or text under it, or a minus, meaning that no heading or test is under it. Each heading is automatically formatted with a heading style, like Heading 1 style for the main headings, Heading 2 style for subheadings, etc. You can see the heading level in the Style box on the left side of the Formatting toolbar.

When you change to Normal or Print Layout view, the headings lose their hierarchical structure and display the format of the heading style with contrasting formats for the report.

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