Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. 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

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 4, 2018)


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, and 2016. 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 three minus 3?

2016-04-25 08:01:02


When inserting a subdocument, the link appears at the top of the page in the "updated" box. When I move it to its correct location, the update box goes away, and the document will not update after this. It errors that it does not have the correct heading. Can you insert new subdocuments to an existing master document?

2015-09-24 12:02:31

Thomas Redd

To solve Mareens problem when I had it, I used the Ctrl-Shift-J to go back to left, and then the Justify button to make it justified. Worked for me.

2015-09-24 03:43:40


Have the same problem as what Marty described. I need to add a few more subdocuments, but can't insert them :( Any tips?

2015-03-28 21:33:44

Marty Pilott

I set this up as you describe. When I came back to it to add further documents all the buttons such as "insert" were ghosted and there was a lock icon beside each of the documents there. It all appears to be locked but I don't know how this was done or how to unlock it!

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