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.

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:

  • Individuals or groups can work on the subdocuments, while someone else works on organizing the subdocuments within the master document.
  • You can work on multiple documents within their final context, as determined by the master document.
  • You can create indexes, tables of contents, and other lists based on the contents of multiple files.
  • You can create cross-references between the subdocuments.
  • Printing an entire complex document is easier because you simply need to print the master.

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.

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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Changing the Ribbon Font Size

Changing the size at which your document is displayed is easy. What, though, of the elements that make up the Word ...

Discover More

Displaying the Print Dialog Box in a Macro

Want to print a document by using a macro? One way is to display the Print dialog box and allow the user to interact with ...

Discover More

Opening Two Workbooks at Once

Do you work with a group of workbooks all the time in Excel? Windows and Excel both provide a plethora of ways you can ...

Discover More

Create Custom Apps with VBA! Discover how to extend the capabilities of Office 2013 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access) with VBA programming, using it for writing macros, automating Office applications, and creating custom applications. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2013 today!

More WordTips (ribbon)

Fixing Word

Need to make sure that Word is installed correctly from the original installation CDs? You can do it by using a command ...

Discover More

Hyphenating a Selection

Word provides a hyphenation tool that can help you hyphenate words within a document. If you want to apply hyphenation to ...

Discover More

Correcting Student Papers

If you are a teacher, you may be looking for ways you can use Word's features to correct papers your students send to you ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 3 + 3?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


This Site

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.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.