How to Make a Timeline in Word

Easily a create and manage a timeline graphic

For depicting an itinerary, schedule, project plan, or other milestones, a timeline graphic can be much more effective than plain text. Microsoft Word offers built-in tools and layouts specifically for this purpose, letting you map out a visual timeline with minimal effort. 

The tutorials below are intended for Word for Microsoft 365, Word 2019, Word 2016, and Word 2013. Timelines cannot be created in Word Online.

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. A new interface will open labeled Choose a SmartArt Graphic

    a screenshot of the SmartArt Graphic interface in Word for Windows
  4. Select Process in the left menu pane, then choose one of the timeline types. If this is your first attempt at creating a timeline in Word, select Basic Timeline.

    Once you get comfortable, you may want to try something more advanced, such as a Circle Accent Timeline.

    a screenshot of the Basic Timeline option in Word for Windows
  5. Select OK. A timeline template should be inserted into your document, along with the floating SmartArt Text interface accompanying the main Word window.

    Selecting OK to confirm the timeline.
  6. Select any of the fields labeled "Text" from this floating interface and type or paste the content you would like to add to the corresponding section. Each section will be highlighted when its value is selected.

    In the screenshot above, we've modified the three default labels 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 your timeline, select Enter within any of the text fields in the floating interface so a new line is created. To delete an item, simply delete the entire line associated with it.

  8. By default, all timeline items are displayed at the uppermost level, making each a major or parent milestone. You can also demote or promote a timeline item so 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 your 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.

    Once you get comfortable you may want to try something more advanced, such as a Circle Accent Timeline.

    a screenshot of the Process SmartArt options in Word for macOS
  4. A timeline template will be inserted into your document, along with the floating SmartArt Text interface now accompanying the main Word window.

  5. Select any of the fields labeled "Text" and type or paste the content you wish to add to the corresponding section. Each section will be highlighted when its value is clicked.

    In the screenshot above, we've modified the three default labels 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 your timeline, select Plus (green) or Minus (red) from the SmartArt Text interface.

  7. 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 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 green 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, so feel free to experiment by selecting different options and determining whether or not one is a good fit for your particular timeline. 

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

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

    Scrolling to see more layout options.
  3. To see how your timeline will look in a particular layout, select it once and the contents will be instantly adjusted 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

Once you’ve chosen your timeline’s contents and layout, it’s time to tweak its colors.

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

  1. On macOS, select your timeline so that it's highlighted and the SmartArt Design section is activated in Word’s 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 will appear containing dozens of thumbnail images, each previewing a different color scheme. To instantly apply one to your timeline, simply select its preview image.

    You may notice an option located at the bottom of the Change Colors interface labeled Recolor Pictures in SmartArt Graphic. This is only applicable to layouts containing pictures; it does not have an effect on your timeline and can be ignored.

    Changing a timeline colors.

Sprucing 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 can enhance the visuals further with line styles, 3-D milestone indicators, and more.

To apply a SmartArt style, on macOS, select your timeline so the SmartArt Design section is displayed; on Windows, right-click your timeline, then select the Style icon.

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

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