Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. 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: Understanding Master and Subdocuments.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 13, 2019)
You may not have heard about master and subdocuments in Word before. They are a feature that has been available for some time but are not widely used by many people. They are used as a way to develop smaller documents and then combine them together into a larger document. The classic example is chapters in a book. Each chapter might be in its own document, but can be combined together, using a master document, into a larger whole that represents the entire book.
Perhaps it is best to view a master document as a container. You can put information directly within the container, but you can also put other containers within the container. These containers, in turn, contain other information. A master document is nothing but a container for text and graphics (like a regular document), but also pointers to individual documents called subdocuments. When you are working with the master document, it appears to contain all the information within the subdocuments, even though the subdocuments are individual files.
There are several advantages to working with master and subdocuments:
Even though there are advantages to working with master and subdocuments, there are also drawbacks. This is to be expected, since managing documents in this manner adds another layer of technological complexity to your documents. Any time this happens, it seems there is always a greater chance of things "getting messed up." This is the first and potentially most serious drawback—that you could end up messing up your document because of the increased complexity.
Another drawback is that it is harder to move the documents to a different location. With regular documents, you can simply move or copy them to a different location. With master and subdocuments, you need to go through a specific process, as described in another tip.
WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (12634) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Understanding Master and Subdocuments.
Learning Made Easy! Quickly teach yourself how to format, publish, and share your content using Word 2013. With Step by Step, you set the pace, building and practicing the skills you need, just when you need them! Check out Microsoft Word 2013 Step by Step today!
If you use the Word Count tool and are surprised that it returns a count of 0, it could be because of what you selected ...Discover More
Sometimes a writer needs motivation to keep ploughing ahead in their craft. Word doesn't really include any tools to help ...Discover More
Word provides a hyphenation tool that can help you hyphenate words within a document. If you want to apply hyphenation to ...Discover More
FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."
Got a version of Word that uses the ribbon interface (Word 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the menu interface.