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Use a Master Document

One way to deal with huge, swollen files is to break them into smaller ones. Smaller files load and process faster and allow for speedier navigation. But having to run a find-and-replace sequence for each separate file would be tedious, as would the manual building of a table of contents. One solution is to make these smaller section subdocuments within a single master document.

I’d say to stay away from master documents, however, unless the project is massive and/or you’re working in collaboration with several team members. The master/subdocument relationship can be finicky. On the other hand, this measure can be a lifejacket when you’ve rebooted for the third time in an hour because Word locked you up cold.

Subdocuments can be written to, edited, or reviewed independently from the master document. If you’re writing collaboratively, team members can work independently and simultaneously on subdocuments. When all the subs are complete, the master—which functions as a kind of living outline for the entire project—can be opened to generate the table of contents, index, cross-references, pagination, and so forth.

You can create this master/subdocument relationship in a new document or an existing one. Open Word’s outlining feature (choose View > Outline). The Master Document view button (see Figure 6) is a toggle that reveals (or hides) the Master Document toolbar, a series of buttons specific to the master/subdocument feature (see Figure 7).

Figure 06

Figure 6 If the Master Document toolbar isn’t showing, click the Master Document View button.

Figure 07

Figure 7 The Master Document toolbar offers buttons for creating subdocuments.

Select an entire section, and click the Create Subdocument button in the Master Document toolbar. Instantly the entire section becomes a subdocument, as shown in Figure 8. Create as many subdocuments as you like. The document in which you’re working will remain the master document.

Figure 08

Figure 8 Select a heading and click the Create Subdocument button.

While people sometimes curse the master-with-subdocument model, the trick of creating them is a useful tool. I once had to use a gigantic set of project specifications as a source document. It was so bulky that it would freeze my memory-poor system again and again. Using it from the share was impossible, so I downloaded to my drive. Even then I found myself whimpering every time I had to navigate through it. To keep from irritating my office mates, I broke my local copy into subdocuments, which were not exactly zippy, but were small enough to keep my drive from constantly crashing and my office mates from snapping that I should put a sock in it.

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