How to Make a Timeline in Word

Easily create and manage a timeline graphic

When you want to depict an itinerary, schedule, project plan, or milestones, a timeline graphic can be more effective than plain text. Microsoft Word offers built-in tools and layouts to create visually appealing timeline graphics. Here's how to make a timeline in Word with minimal effort.

Instructions in this article apply to Word for Microsoft 365, Word 2019, Word 2016, and Word 2013.

Businesswoman leading project timeline discussion
Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images

How to Create a Timeline in Word for Windows

Follow these steps to make a timeline in Microsoft Word for Windows.

  1. Open a Word document. 

    a screenshot of Microsoft Word for Windows
  2. Select Insert > SmartArt.

    a screenshot of the Insert ribbon in Word for Windows
  3. The Choose a SmartArt Graphic dialog box displays. 

    a screenshot of the SmartArt Graphic interface in Word for Windows
  4. Go to the left menu pane and select Process, then choose one of the timeline types.

    If this is your first attempt at creating a timeline in Word, select Basic Timeline. After you're comfortable creating a basic timeline, try something more advanced, such as the Circle Accent Timeline.

    a screenshot of the Basic Timeline option in Word for Windows
  5. Select OK. A timeline template is inserted into your document, along with a floating SmartArt Text pane.

    Selecting OK to confirm the timeline.
  6. In the Type your text here pane, select a text box and type or paste the content you want to add to the corresponding timeline section. Each section of the timeline is highlighted when its value is selected.

    In the image below, the three default labels were changed to read Beta Release, Testing Phase, and Production Launch to simulate a software development timeline.

    screenshot of a sample Basic Timeline in Word for Windows
  7. To add additional items to the timeline, go to the text pane, place the cursor at the end of any text field, and press Enter to create a new line. To delete an item on the timeline, go to the text pane and delete the entire line of text associated with it.

  8. By default, all timeline items are displayed at the uppermost level, making each a major or parent milestone. You can demote or promote a timeline item so that it becomes a sub-milestone. Right-click the item and select Demote or Promote.

    a screenshot of the timeline context menu in Word for Windows
  9. To shift an item to earlier or later in the timeline, right-click it, then select Move Up or Move Down.  

    a screenshot of the timeline context menu in Word for Windows

How to Create a Timeline in Word for macOS

Follow these steps to make a timeline in Microsoft Word for macOS.

  1. Open a Word document. 

  2. Select Insert > SmartArt or Insert a SmartArt Graphic, depending on the version of Word.

    a screenshot of the Insert ribbon in Word for macOS
  3. Select Process and choose from one of the timeline types offered.

    If this is your first attempt at creating a timeline in Word, select Basic Timeline. After you feel comfortable, try something more advanced, such as the Circle Accent Timeline.

    a screenshot of the Process SmartArt options in Word for macOS
  4. A timeline template is inserted into the document, along with the floating SmartArt Text pane.

  5. Select any text box and type or paste the content you wish to add to the corresponding section. Each section is highlighted when its value is clicked.

    In the image below, the three default labels were modified to read Beta Release, Testing Phase, and Production Launch to simulate a software development timeline.

    a screenshot of the Basic Timeline template in Word for macOS
  6. To add or remove items from the timeline, select Plus (green) or Minus (red) from the SmartArt Text pane.

  7. By default, all timeline items display at the uppermost level, making each a major or parent milestone. You can demote or promote a timeline item so that it becomes a sub-milestone. Select it, then choose the right arrow (Demote) or left arrow (Promote) from the SmartArt Text toolbar.

  8. To shift an item to earlier or later in the timeline, select the Move Up or Move Down arrows.

How to Use a Different Timeline Layout

Now that your timeline is in place, perhaps you’d like to switch to a different layout. 

Layout changes don't have to be permanent. Experiment by selecting different options and determining which one is a good fit for your timeline.

  1. On macOS, select the timeline so that it's highlighted and the SmartArt Design section is activated in the Word toolbar. On Windows, right-click the timeline, then select Layout.

    Selecting layout from right click menu.
  2. Thumbnail images representing available timeline and process layouts appear. To view more, select the left and right arrows on macOS, or scroll down on Windows.

    Scrolling to see more layout options.
  3. To see how the timeline will look in a particular layout, select it once. The contents instantly adjust to fit the new format. To return to the original layout at any time, select the Basic Timeline thumbnail.

    Selecting a new layout for a timeline.

How to Change the Color Scheme of Your Timeline

After you enter the timeline contents and choose a layout, it’s time to tweak the colors.

Similar to layout changes, color schemes are applied immediately but can be reverted with one click. This allows you to try multiple colors until you find an ideal fit.

  1. On macOS, select the timeline so that it's highlighted and the SmartArt Design tab is activated in the Word toolbar. On Windows, right-click so the context menu appears.

    Right click context menu in Word Timeline.
  2. On macOS, select Change Colors from the toolbar. On Windows, select Color.

    Selecting color in right click context menu.
  3. A pop-out window appears containing dozens of thumbnail images. Each previews a different color scheme. To instantly apply one to the timeline, select its preview image.

    At the bottom of the Change Colors dialog box, there's a Recolor Pictures in SmartArt Graphic option. This only applies to layouts containing pictures. It doesn't have an effect on your timeline and can be ignored.

    Changing a timeline colors.

How to Spruce Up Your Timeline With SmartArt Styles

In addition to changing the layout and color scheme of your timeline, Word offers pre-defined SmartArt styles that enhance the visuals further with line styles, 3-D milestone indicators, and more.

To apply a SmartArt style, on macOS, select the timeline so that the SmartArt Design section displays. On Windows, right-click the timeline, then select the Style icon.

From there, select one of the thumbnail images on the right side of the Word toolbar (macOS) or overlaying the timeline (Windows) to see how the respective style looks when applied.

As is the case with layouts and color schemes, these changes are instant and can be reverted by selecting the original style.