Using Multiple Documents to Create a Master Document in Word

Master documents provide structural coherence to several individual files

Multiple cords going into hub merging to one cord

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When you must combine several documents but don’t want to go through the hassle of merging them manually and consolidating the formatting, why not create a single master document? The master document feature handles page numbers, the index, and the table of contents.

This procedure applies to Word 2019, 2016, and Word for Microsoft 365.

What Is a Master File?

A master file shows the links for individual Word files. The content of these subdocuments isn’t in the master document, only the links to them are. This means that editing the subdocuments is easy because you can do it on an individual basis without disrupting the other documents. Plus, edits made to separate documents will automatically be updated in the master document. Even if more than one person is working on the document, you can send various parts of it to various people through the master document.

How to Create a Master Document

Follow this procedure to create a new master document:

  1. Create a new document, then save it — even though it's still empty.

  2. Open Outline view by selecting the View menu then, from the Views group, selecting Outline.

  3. Select the Show Document option from the Master Document group. This option adds several additional buttons to this group.

  4. Select Insert and then select a subdocument. Address individual warnings as they arise. For example, identical style names between the master document and the subdocument prompt an option to rename the styles in the subdocument.

    insert subdocument
  5. Add additional subdocuments. The order matters; the master document displays the subdocuments in the order you add them.

Tips for Master Documents

Use a master document to provide some sort of structural framework for the final product — common headers and a table of contents, for example. The subdocuments generally retain their original formatting unless you override it in the master document.

The best use case for master documents is probably book publishing. Instead of one large 1,000-page file with your massive space opera, write each chapter or part in a separate file and condense them into a single file using a master document.