Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 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: Creating a Master Document Using Existing Subdocuments.

Creating a Master Document Using Existing Subdocuments

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated April 13, 2019)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365


If you have a series of existing documents for which you want to create a master document, Word makes the process very easy. For instance, you may have chapters for an employee manual, and each chapter is stored in its own Word document. To combine such chapters into a master document, follow these steps:

  1. Open the document you want to use as your master document. This can be either an existing file (such as the preface to your manual), or it can be a new document you are creating for this purpose.
  2. Switch to Outline view. (Display the View tab of the ribbon and click the Outline tool.) Word displays the Outlining tab of the ribbon.
  3. Position the insertion point where you want the subdocument to appear.
  4. Click the Show Document tool on the Outlining tab of the ribbon. Word expands the tools within the Master Document group.
  5. Click the Insert tool. Word displays the Insert Subdocument dialog box, which looks like a standard Open dialog box.
  6. Use the dialog box controls to select the document you want used as a subdocument.
  7. Click on Open. The file is inserted as a subdocument, as you specified.
  8. Repeat steps 3 through 7 for each document you want to include in the master.

Once you've inserted your subdocuments, if you would rather not work in Outline view, you can choose any of the other views you desire. When you later save your master document, any changes to the subdocuments are also automatically saved. When you later open the master document, all the subdocuments are again opened and displayed as part of the master. If the master document only displays the links to the subdocuments, follow these steps to open and display as part of the master:

  1. Switch to Outline view. (Display the View tab of the ribbon and click the Outline tool.) Word displays the Outlining tab of the ribbon.
  2. Click the Expand Subdocuments tool on the Outlining tab of the ribbon. Word displays the contents of the subdocuments in the master document.
  3. Click on Close Outline View if you prefer to work in any of the other views.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (12635) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Creating a Master Document Using Existing 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. ...


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What is one more than 0?

2024-03-18 19:23:15


I wanted to try this feature to see how it works. However, I cannot insert any documents that are stored on my OneDrive. I am talking about selecting them in the Insert dialog box from the folder on my hard drive that is synced with the cloud. If I select a file that is only local in another directory, it seems to insert fine, but from OneDrive - nothing happens!

Am I missing something?

2024-03-16 17:21:35

Ron S

Since no one else has said it...
My experience using the Word Master/Sub document feature always "ended in tears". Inevitably it led to corruption of the sub documents.
My experience was not unique. The last time I looked, in the late 20teens, all of the comments I saw about it, including some expert authors of Word books and experts who were able to hack into the underlying XML of the 2007+ DOCX format, ALL agreed with my experience.

Now, it is possible that MS has fixed that problem, intentionally or "accidentally", but in my experience that happens extremely rarely with features MS considers "finished" (even if the user community vehemently disagrees!).

I'd recommend strongly against using the feature.
If you do insist to use it:

* Be paranoid!
* Expect the unexpected!
* MAKE FREQUENT INCREMENTAL backup copies of all the files.

At least backups (daily or even more frequent!) will reduce the data loss if you do encounter corruption.

2020-02-25 13:35:14


I created a Master Document but I cannot make any changes in the Master Document and when I open to subdocument it is also in Read-Only and will not allow me to makes any changes. Any idea how to resolve this? Thanks!

2020-01-23 02:39:40


@Leanne: Insert > Object > From File (Options > Link to File) will do the magic for you.

2019-05-12 06:00:44

Rajaram Menon

Thank you. I was doing the mergers manually!

2019-05-11 08:12:14



If you have a shared location with a common access link (i.e., a network drive or Google Drive), then simply sharing the Master Doc will work. If not, then the files have to accompany the Master.

2019-05-10 04:23:53


Hi Allen, this is a great article and a really useful feature, so thanks for sharing. Do you know if there is a way to embed the linked files at any point so that you can share the Master document as a single, self contained file to people who do not have access to the location of the linked files? I would like to use the link feature during document development, to allow multiple authors, checkers etc, but then 'bind' it together to issue it.

Many thanks!

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