Using Multiple Documents to Create a Master Document in Word

Architect reviewing plans in office
hero Images on Getty Images

If you have multiple documents that you need to combine but don’t want to go through the hassle of combining them manually and consolidating the formatting, why not create a single master document? You may be wondering what will happen to all the page numbers, the index, and table of contents. The master document feature can handle that! Turn your multiple docs into one single Word file.

What Is It?

What is a master file?

Essentially, it shows the links for individual Word files (also known as subdocuments.) 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 via the master document.

Let’s show you how to create a master document and its subdocuments. We’ll also make a master document from a set of existing documents and how to make a table of contents for the master document.

Creating the Master Document From Scratch

This means that you have no existing subdocuments. To start, open a new (blank) Word document and save it with a file name (such as “Master.”)

Now, go to “File” then click on “Outline.” Using the style menu, you can type in the headings of the document. You can also use the Outline Tools section to put the headings into different levels.

When you’re done, go to the Outlining tab and choose “Show Document in the Master Document.”

Here, you’ll have even more options for outlining.

Highlight the outline you just wrote and hit “Create.”

Now each document will have its own window. Be sure to save your master document again.

Each window in the master document is a subdocument. The filename for these subdocuments will be the name of the heading for each window in the master document.

If you want to go to the previous view, hit “Close Outline View.”

Let’s add a table of contents to the master document. Hover your cursor at the very start of the document’s text and go to “References” then click on “Table of Contents.” Choose the option you want from the Automatic Table options.

You can go to “Home” then click on “Paragraph” and click on the paragraph symbol to see section breaks and what types they are.

Note: Word inserts an unbroken section break before and after each subdocument when you make a master document from scratch so that there are no page breaks. Even so, you can change the type of the individual section breaks.

Our example shows the expanded subdocuments when our document is in outline mode.

Creating a Master Document From Existing Documents

Maybe you already have documents that you want to combine into one master document. Start by opening a new (blank) Word doc and save it with “Master” in the filename.

Go to “View” then click on “Outline” to access the Outlining tab. Then choose “Show Document in the Master Document” and add a subdocument before hitting “Insert.”

The Insert Subdocument menu will show you the locations of the documents you can insert. Choose the first one and hit “Open.”

Note: Try to keep all your subdocuments in the same directory or folder as the master document.

A pop-up box may tell you that you have the same style for both the subdocument and master document. Hit “Yes to All” so that everything stays consistent.

Now repeat this process to insert all the subdocuments you want in the master document.

At the end, minimize the subdocuments by clicking on “Collapse Subdocuments,” found in the Outlining tab.

You need to save before you can collapse the subdocuments.

Each subdocument box will show the complete pathway to your subdocument files. You can open a subdocument by double-clicking on its symbol (upper left-hand corner,) or by using “Ctrl + Click.”

Note: Importing existing Word docs into a master file means that Word will insert page breaks before and after each subdocument. You can change the section break type if you want.

You can view the master document outside of Outline View by going to “View” then click on “Print Layout.”

You can add a table of contents the same way you did for master documents created from scratch.

Now that all the subdocuments are in the master document, feel free to add or edit headers and footers. You can also edit the table of contents, create an index, or edit other parts of the documents.

If you’re making a master document in an earlier version of Microsoft Word, it may get corrupted. The Microsoft Answers site can help you if that happens.

Was this page helpful?