MS-Word / General Formatting

Working with Master Documents

Suppose that a great honor is bestowed on you: serving as the moderator of this year's Neat Freaks Convention. As moderator, one of your jobs is assembling a little 1,200-page book titled Neat Freaks 2010: Proceedings of the Annual Neat Freaks Trade Show and Conference. Notable Neat Freaks from all across the globe will present papers, and your job is to assemble all these documents into one huge book. Fortunately for you, the International Neat Freak Association (INFA) has adopted Word 2010 as its standard word processor, so each neat freak of note will send you a document on disk. All you have to do is combine the files into a single document and print it.

This job is definitely for Word's Master Document feature. You can use it to create long documents by piecing them together from small documents. Master documents are all confusing and worth figuring out only if you have to do this sort of thing often.

Remember: You probably shouldn't tackle master documents until you have a good understanding of Word's Outline view because the Master Document feature is sort of an advanced form of outlining.

Understanding the master document

A master document contains special links to other documents, which are subdocuments. If you're putting together a book that consists of 30 chapters, for example, you probably won't put the entire book into one document. Instead, you probably will create a separate document for each chapter. That's all well and good, but you might want to print the whole thing with page numbers that begin at page 1 and run through the end of the book rather than restart at page 1 at the beginning of each chapter. Or, you might want to print a table of contents for the book or create an index.

That's where master documents come in. Using a master document, you create each chapter as a separate document. Then you create a master document for the entire book. In the master document, you create links to each of the chapters or subdocuments and format the text using the style definitions in the master document rather than from the individual documents.

This method provides consistent formatting for the entire final document. Then you can print the entire book, and Word takes care of numbering the pages for you. You can also create a table of contents or index in the master document, and the page numbers automatically adjust.

Word has a separate view for working with master documents (drum roll, please): Master Document view. This view is a variation of Outline view. In Master Document view, little icons indicate the portions of the master documents that are subdocuments. You can double-click one of these icons to open a subdocument in a separate window to edit it.

For the most part, you use Master Document view to create a new master document, to change the order in which individual subdocuments appear in the master document, or to add or remove subdocuments. If all you want to do is edit an individual chapter in your book, you just open the chapter document as you normally do, without worrying about it being a subdocument in a master document.

If you open a master document and switch to Draft view or Print Layout view, Word treats the master document and all its subdocuments as though they're a part of one large document. You can scroll through the master document all the way to Chapter 12 and begin typing, for example, or you can choose File → Print to print the entire book, or you can use the Replace button in the Editing group on the Home tab on the Ribbon to replace all occurrences of WordPerfect with Word throughout the entire document.

You can assemble a master document in three ways:

  • From scratch: If you know that you need a master document beforehand, you can create the master document and all its subdocuments from scratch. This technique results in a master document and a collection of empty subdocuments, which you can then open and edit as you see fit. See the section "Whipping up a master document," later in this tutorial.
  • By breaking up: If you get part of the way into a project and realize, This document is way too long! should have used a master document," it's not too late. You can bust a big document into several smaller subdocuments. See the later section "Break it up!"
  • By power of assembly: If you already have a bunch of Word documents that you want to assemble into a master document, you can create a master document by using the existing documents as the subdocuments. See the section "Putting an existing file into a master document," later in this tutorial.

All this talk about master documents is confusing, but it makes more sense when you begin to use them. (I promise.) Just to muddy the waters a little more, the following list shows you some additional notes you need to know about master documents before jump into the steps for creating and using them:

  • In the master document, each subdocument is contained within its own section. Each subdocument, therefore, can have its own page layout and column arrangement and any of the other niceties that go along with being in your own section.
  • When you click the Show Document button in the Master Document group on the Outlining tab on the Ribbon, the Master Document group expands to display additional buttons specially designed to work with master documents.
  • Basing the master document and all its subdocuments on the same template works best. Otherwise, trying to figure out which styles, macros, and other template goodies are available is a nightmare.

You can open a subdocument in two ways. The first way is to open the master document. Word displays any subdocuments contained in the master document as hyperlinks. To open a subdocument, all you have to do is Ctrl+click the subdocument's hyperlink. Alternatively, you can ignore the master document and open the subdocument file the way you open any other Word document: Choose File → Open to browse for the document.

If you have a network and more than one person is involved with the creation of your documents, Word keeps track of who owns which subdocument, based on the Author Name field of the subdocuments. Before you can edit a subdocument that someone else created, you must unlock it by clicking the Lock/Unlock Document button in the Master Document group on the Outlining tab on the Ribbon.

You can spread the master document and its subdocuments across different folders, and they can even live on different computers if you have a network. Life is much easier, however, if you create a separate folder for just the master document and all its subdocuments. If more than one person is working on the project, place this folder on a shared network hard drive so that everyone involved in the project can access it.

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