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Use Outline View

I once had lunch with a successful romance novelist who swore she never knew the end of a story until she wrote it, pointing out that "knowing" would spoil the fun of writing. On large business projects, my experience has been just the opposite. Oh, there’s no fun involved, but mapping each step of the process can save the writer from much sorrow and repentance down the road.

Fortunately, the Outline view in Microsoft Word offers a particularly useful set of tools for organizing your thoughts. It not only gives you an excellent way to see the document overview, but it’s a great place to rearrange content, create a master document, or apply styles.

If you understand Word styles, Outline mode is very easy to use. The outline hierarchy is built on the basic style structure of Word that allows you to apply a Heading 1 style to the title, Heading 2 style to your top-level subheadings, Heading 3 to the next rank, and so on. You must use Word’s built-in styles for this, though.

Let’s say that you begin outlining by listing your working title and section headings in Word in Normal mode, and then switch to Outline view (choose View > Outline). The Outlining toolbar appears and your subheadings will look a little like the ones in Figure 1.

Figure 01

Figure 1 Create section headings in Outline view.

Slap your cursor down somewhere in the title of your document, and click the Promote button on the Outlining toolbar (see Figure 2) until the Outline Level box beside it indicates Level 1. This applies the built-in style Heading 1 to your title. Then use the Promote/Demote buttons or select levels in the Outline Level box to apply styles to all your headings.

Figure 02

Figure 2 Use the Promote button to apply a style.

If styles still appear in plain text (without formatting), click the Show Formatting button (shown in Figure 3) to display the formatting.

Figure 03

Figure 3 The Show Formatting toggle button reveals/hides text formatting.

When you view a completed document in Outline mode, you can choose to see the whole document or only the headings, by collapsing or expanding the text. Double-clicking the plus symbol to the left of any heading shows or hides the text beneath it (see Figure 4).

Figure 04

Figure 4 Double-click the plus symbol beside a heading to show/hide text.

If you collapse the text for all sections, viewing only the headings, you can click and drag them into any order you like. The collapsed text comes along with its heading, making reorganization fast and elegant.

For rearranging paragraphs within sections, click the Show First Line Only button (see Figure 5) on the toolbar. Instantly the text collapses to show just the first line of each paragraph so you can click and drag to reorder them with ease.

Figure 05

Figure 5 The First Line Only button limits text to the first line of each paragraph.

Word’s Outline view makes it easy to create a master document, too, which brings us to the next topic.

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