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Write smarter in Microsoft Word with Document Map

Iain Broome
Iain Broome
4 min read

There are lots of alternatives when it comes to writing software. From simple but well-thought out text editing programs like WriteRoom to comprehensive all-in-one affairs like the highly-rated Scrivener.
However, I suspect the majority of writers still use Microsoft Word. And though it’s not always popular opinion, I believe that there’s nothing wrong with that.

Because the fact is, Microsoft Word is an excellent word processor, especially when you use it correctly. Yes, it’s packed with tools and bits and bobs that are generally pointless for the many users who just want to, you know, write.

But there are also some features that, once you get to grips with them, can genuinely change the way you work.

Document Map is one of those features.

It saves you time and helps you format your writing quickly and easily. Even better, it lets you move around your document with barely any effort at all.

What is Document Map?

Document Map is effectively an interactive contents page. You can use it to jump between the various sections of your Word document without having to endlessly scroll or make a separate note of page numbers.

I say contents page because that’s how it appears in a pane to the left of your document, and because it’s a sensible analogy. But it’s not really a contents page, because it doesn’t form an actual part of the document.

In truth, Document Map is for your eyes only. It’s a functional route around your writing.

Here’s how it’s described on the Microsoft Office site:

The Document Map is a separate pane that displays a list of headings in the document. Use the Document Map to quickly navigate through the document and keep track of your location in it.

So don’t think that by using Document Map you’re adding things to your document that you don’t want. You’re simply creating a system for formatting and moving around your writing.

How does Document Map work?

Document Map only works when you assign styles to your headings and sub-headings. It recognises those styles and transforms them into the contents page-type list mentioned above.

Again, here’s some extra info, this time from the very unsexily titled MS Office Tutorial Training:

When you use [Document Map], Word will create a list based on its heading styles (Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on). The headings must be formatted using one of the built-in heading styles.

Now I know that sounds a little complicated, but I promise it’s not. Once you get into the habit of assigning styles to headings you’ll never look back.

In the video at the top of this post I show you how to assign styles to your headings and how they then appear in Document Map. I also show you how I’ve implemented this method with my novel using just one style (Header 1).

My novel is effectively a 220ish-page document that allows me to get to any specific part of it in a split second. Watch the video. It will all make sense.

I’m a writer, please put this in context

Okay, I will. If like me you’re working on a novel you may well have written your various chapters in separate Word documents.

It makes sense to do that because it’s easier to print sections out or send them to someone for feedback. Plus you’re likely to change things regularly and to do that in one document is a bit of a pain.

However, there will come a time when you need to see the thing as a whole. And then you’ll want to make small edits. If you go back to the individual documents and re-paste your amends into your single document. Well, you can see, it’s complicated.

Seriously, once you’ve got to the stage when you’re working from a single document, Document Map becomes your best friend. It’s an incredible time saver.

And not just for novelists either. I know people who keep all their blog posts/articles in one long document. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what you’re working on, Document Map is basically completely brillo pads for any writer that works with several pages of text and any number of headings.

Where are Document Map and styles on a PC version of Microsoft Word?

In the video above I’m using my Mac version of Word, where Document Map and styles are in a different place to the PC version.

In Word 2003 I believe you’ll find styles in the default toolbar and Document Map by going through the menu thus: View > Document Map.

In Word 2007 it’s very similar.  Styles are right there in front of you in the default toolbar, which you can expand to look like the Mac version in my video. Document Map is switched on by selecting a tick box in the ‘View’ tab.

Here’s a screenshot of that:

Crop of Document Map in Word 2007

For more information

In writing this post I’ve discovered loads of tutorials on the web about how to use Document Map. I hope that here I’ve shown you how it can be used by us scribes to make our lives simpler and to make our writing easier to manage.

I seriously recommend giving it a go. You can retrospectively organise your old documents too – it’s not just for new projects. If you find yourself going back to old work to find something or other, Document Map could shave minutes of your search.

Anyway, here’s some useful links with more information:

Watch this episode on Vimeo

Document MapdocumentsMicrosoftMicrosoft WordScrivenersoftwaretutorialword processorsWriteRoom

Iain Broome Twitter

I'm the author of the novel, A is for Angelica. Every week, I send Draft Mode, a newsletter full of tips and tools that help you improve your craft and promote your writing.

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