The Master Document View

Word 365 2013 2010 2007 2003
Word master document enables you to cross-reference items among several documents; create indexes, tables of contents, and lists that span several documents; easily assign consistent page numbering, headers, and another formatting across multiple documents; etc.
A book is ideally suited to the master document feature. Each chapter can be a subdocument, and the elements common to the entire book can be contained in the master document itself.

A master document contains two things: normal document stuff-text and graphics, tables and text boxes, and so on - and links to other documents. Those links can be used to pull in the information from the documents to which the master documented is linked.

On the View tab, in the Document Views group, click the Outline button:

Document Views in Word 2016

On the Outlining tab appears Master Document buttons:

Outlining ribbon in Word 2016

Show Document button   Show Document - Toggles the display of all Master Document tools except for Show Document and Collapse Subdocuments

Expand/Collapse Subdocuments button   Collapse Subdocuments - Toggles between showing the path and name of the subdocument and showing the subdocument content itself

Create button   Create - Transforms selected outline items into subdocuments, each major outline division becomes a separate file

Insert button   Insert - Inserts an independent file into the Master Document as a subdocument, use this approach to assemble existing files into a Master Document

Unlink button   Unlink - Deletes the link to the subdocument and copies the subdocument contents into the Master Document (if you do this for all subdocuments, the resulting document is no longer a Master Document)

Merge button   Merge - Combines multiple subdocuments into one subdocument.

Split button   Split - Splits the selected subdocument into new subdocuments at the next lower level of organization. For example, if the subdocument has one Heading 1 but multiple Heading 2 styles, then there will be one subdocument for each Heading 2 in the selection.

Lock Document button   Lock Document - Toggles the entire document or selected subdocuments to a locked or an unlocked state. Note that this provides only cursory protection, however. Any user can unlock the subdocument simply by choosing the Lock Document button again.

There are three main methods of building a Master Document:

  • Begin a new document in the Master Document view. Create an outline for your master document, and then use those headings to break the outline into separate subdocuments.
  • Break an existing document into subdocuments.
  • Combine existing documents into a master document by inserting them as subdocuments. Any existing Word document can be treated as a subdocument.

Starting with an Existing Document

   1.   Open the document that you want to use as your master document.

   2.   On the View menu, in the Document Views group, click the Outline button.

   3.   Assign a heading style to each heading (for example, use Heading 1 for the title and Heading 2 for each subdocument). To do this, use the buttons on the Outlining tab:

  • Click Promote Promote button (or Alt+Shift+left arrow) to increase the heading level.
  • Click Demote Demote button (or Alt+Shift+right arrow) to decrease the heading level.

   4.   As necessary, for any content that is not a heading, select the content and click Demote to Body Text Demote to Body Text button.

How to create subdocuments from existing documents or how to insert subdocuments to the master document, see Creating subdocuments.

How to rename subdocuments or split subdocuments, see Modifying subdocuments, and Importing data for subdocuments.


For easy navigation, keep the following keystrokes in mind:

Alt+Shift+Left/Right arrow - Demote or promote the current paragraph and all collapsed subheadings.

Alt+Shift+Up/Down arrow - Swap the current paragraph with the previous/next paragraph, moving all collapsed subheadings with it.

Alt+Shift+1 through 9 - Display levels 1 through 9 (for example, Alt+Shift+3 displays levels 1 through 3, Alt+Shift+6 displays levels 1 through 6, and so on).

See also this tip in French: La vue du document maître.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to ask OfficeToolTips team.