Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Sorting by Headings.

Sorting by Headings

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated May 27, 2023)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


A useful trick you can use when developing some types of documents is the ability to sort the various parts of the document based on the headings you use. For instance, you can sort the document based on first-level headings (paragraphs that use the Heading 1 style) by following these steps:

  1. Switch to Outline view. (Either click the Outline view button on the status bar or go to the View tab of the Ribbon and select Outline in the Views group.)
  2. Using the controls on the Outlining tab of the ribbon, collapse the headings so that only the first-level headings are shown. (This step is not strictly necessary, but does make the screen a bit more readable.)
  3. Place the cursor at the beginning of the first heading and press Ctrl+Shift+End to select everything through the end of the document.
  4. Display the Home tab of the ribbon.
  5. Click the Sort tool in the Paragraph group. Word displays the Sort Text dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  6. Figure 1. The Sort Text dialog box.

  7. If the first "Sort By" drop-down list is set to anything other than "Headings," change the option to Headings. (In some older versions of Word, "Headings" may not be an option. In those versions, simply choose the default—"Paragraphs.")
  8. Click on OK to dismiss the dialog box and perform the sort.

Had you skipped the first two steps and performed the sort in any view besides Outline view, every paragraph would have been sorted alphabetically and therefore rearranged so that subordinate paragraphs would be separated from their headings. In other words, you would have a mess. However, in Outline view, the highest-level headings are sorted, bringing along the subordinate heading levels and body text.

If you wanted to sort by Heading 2 paragraphs, you should also use Outline view, but you would have to first select all the Heading 2 paragraphs subordinate to a particular Heading 1 paragraph and then sort. You will get the same results regardless of how many heading levels that you show on the Outline tab of the ribbon.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11238) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Sorting by Headings.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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