How to save yourself hours by using Outline View properly

Article contributed by Dave Rado

Word's Outline View is wonderful for long documents and – used properly – can cut the time taken to write a typical report, proposal, thesis, or dissertation by as much as 50%.

In order to make use of it, you should create all your headings use Word's built-in Heading Styles (which you can redefine to look the way you want) – using Heading 1 for your Chapter headings, Heading 2 for subheadings and so on. If not familiar with using styles, see John McGhie's article on this site Creating a Template – The Basics (Part II), as well as the excellent Shauna Kelly article Understanding Styles.

Outline View lets you view all your Headings collapsed to any heading level you want.

To set the collapse level, you can either click on the numbers on the outline toolbar (so if you want to view only your Heading 1 paragraphs, click on the 1 button, etc); or you can use the + and – buttons on the outline toolbar to collapse and expand just the selected Heading(s).

So if you click on a Heading 1 paragraph, and then click on the + button, it will expand to show you the Heading 2 paragraphs under that Heading 1 paragraph, but not any of the other Heading 2 paragraphs in the document.

Outline View is an excellent way of getting to the section you want in a long document extremely quickly – switch to Outline View, click on the 1 button to show just the Heading 1 paragraphs; click in the Heading 1 paragraph you're interested in and expand it to see its subheadings, click on the subheading you're interested in and expand, until you're where you want to be. Then switch back to Page layout or Normal view. Much quicker than it sounds, it means you can find your way around a 500 page document just as easily as if it were a 5 page document.

It makes it incredibly easy to restructure your document. Just drag and drop a heading to move not only that heading, but all its associated subheadings and body text. Or if you don't like drag and drop, use the up and down arrow buttons on the Outline toolbar, or press Alt + Shift + up arrow or Alt + Shift + down arrow.

Because this doesn't involve the clipboard, it means you can move 200 pages-worth of information from the end of a 500 page document to the beginning in less than a second, as opposed to probably 15 minutes if you'd had to select it all in the normal way and then use cut and paste.

If you want to move a Heading 1 (with all its subheadings and body text), click on the 1 button before dragging; to move a Heading 2, click on the 2 button, and so on.

Best of all, you aren't restricted to moving one heading at a time – whatever you've selected when you drag and drop gets moved. So you can move five contiguous Heading 1 paragraphs with all their subheadings and body text, (which, in a typical document, means well over 100 pages) in one go, and in less than a second.

Split the pane (Window + Split) if you can't see all your headings at once, in order to drag headings from one section to another.

To promote subheadings to main headings or demote main headings to subheadings, you can either press the left and right arrow buttons on the Outline toolbar, or you can press Alt + Shift + left arrow (on the keyboard) to promote, or Alt + Shift + right arrow to demote. You can use these shortcuts in any view, not just in Outline View – a big time saver.

Again, when you promote or demote a heading, any subheadings and sub-sub-headings associated with it also get promoted or demoted.

And again, you aren't restricted in how many headings you can promote or demote simultaneously. If you select five Heading 1s and click on the demote button, they will all be converted to Heading 2s, their subheadings will all be converted to Heading 3s and so on (and the Heading Numbering scheme you defined under Format Bullets and Numbering will follow suit).

Take a scenario where someone else has written a report which you want to incorporate in a report you're writing. So the title of their Report needs to become a Heading 1 in your document, which means you have to convert all their Heading 1 paragraphs to Heading 2 paragraphs, all their Heading 2 paragraphs to Heading 3 paragraphs and so on. Using Outline View this takes seconds. Without Outline View it could take hours, literally, if it was a long report.

Or take another scenario: you are sending a letter to a client and need to include your company's Environmental Policy. But the only document you have containing the Environmental Policy has it as a subsection of the main company policy document. So in this case, having pasted it into your letter, you need to promote all the headings by one level – a laborious task without Outline View but a 5 second task with it.

You can create a skeleton report very quickly, by typing all your headings in Outline View and then switching to Normal or Page Layout view to add the body text. Whereas, in Normal or Page Layout view, if you type a heading and press Return you get body text, in Outline view you get another heading (which you can then promote or demote as necessary using the Alt + Shift + left and right shortcuts).

A Word outline can be pasted straight into PowerPoint; and this is a very quick way to prepare the guts of a presentation; Heading 1 paragraphs are converted automatically to slide titles, Heading 2's to main bullets, Heading 3's to sub-bullets.