Moving All Headings Down One Level

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 1, 2020)


Fakhruddin created four documents using Word's built-in heading styles, Heading 1 through Heading 3. Now he needs to combine the four files into one quite long document, so each file will represent a chapter. This introduces the need for a higher-level heading at the beginning of each file. Fakhruddin wonders how he can quickly change the levels of the current headings (move them all down one level, to Heading 2 through Heading 4) so that he can add the new Heading 1 headings at the beginning of each file as he does the combining.

There is actually a plethora of ways that could be used to accomplish this task. (I've identified five of them, though there may actually be more.) I want to focus this tip, however, on what I consider the two easiest ways of accomplishing the task.

The first way is great if you need to do this type of heading adjustment only sporadically. It uses what many consider a too-easily-overlooked tool in Word—Outline view. Follow these steps:

  1. Display the View tab of the ribbon.
  2. Near the very left side of the ribbon, click Outline. Your document should look different, and you should see the Outlining tab of the ribbon.
  3. On the Outlining tab of the ribbon, use the Show Level drop-down list to select a heading level one greater than the number of heading levels you use in the document. (Thus, in Fakhruddin's case, where he uses 3 heading levels, he would use the Show Level drop-down to choose Level 4.) The document should show, at this point, only the headings. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. Outline view, showing only headings.

  5. Press Ctrl+A. The entire document should be selected.
  6. Press the Tab key. (You could also use the Demote tool near the left of the Outlining tab of the ribbon. It looks like a right-pointing arrow.) All of the headings are demoted a single level, accomplishing exactly what Fakhruddin desires.
  7. Click the Close Outline View tool at the right side of the Outlining tab of the ribbon or click the Print Layout tool on the Status Bar. Either way, you end up back at your document where you can continue to make edits.

Simple, right? The demotion of the headings affects only those headings that are selected, but since we used Ctrl+A (step 4), all the headings were affected. This means that if you want to affect only a subset of headings, you should select those headings in step 4.

The second approach I wanted to highlight is to use a macro. Why would you use a macro when using Outline View is so easy? I think it comes in most handy when you need to perform the task a lot or when you need to demote the headings more than once. Here's the macro I came up with:

Sub DemoteAllHeadings()
    Dim p As Paragraph
    Dim sParStyle As String
    Dim iHeadLevel As Integer

    For Each p In ActiveDocument.Paragraphs
        sParStyle = p.Style
        If Left(sParStyle, 7) = "Heading" Then
            iHeadLevel = Val(Mid(sParStyle,8)) + 1
            If iHeadLevel > 9 Then iHeadLevel = 9
            p.Style = "Heading " & iHeadLevel
        End If
    Next p
End Sub

The macro runs very quickly, regardless of the length of your document. It steps through every paragraph, sees if it is a heading level, and if it is, increments the heading style applied to the paragraph. It has a safeguard built in that stops it from incrementing beyond the Heading 9 style, as there are only nine heading style levels built into Word.


If you would like to know how to use the macros described on this page (or on any other page on the WordTips sites), I've prepared a special page that includes helpful information. Click here to open that special page in a new browser tab.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13732) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365.

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 1 + 9?

2020-02-04 18:02:38


In step 3, you don't need to know how many levels are used in the document. Just specify Level 1. When you select and demote all the Level 1 headings, all the subordinate levels are demoted as well.

2020-02-03 16:16:23


Thanks! I work in the accessibility field, and while I've never needed to do precisely this thing, that may well turn out to be a helpful hint for me or someone I know.

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