How to Make a Timeline in Word

Easily a create and manage a timeline graphic

Businesswoman leading project timeline discussion

Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images

A picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to depicting an itinerary, schedule, project plan, or other progression of events or milestones, utilizing a timeline graphic is much more effective than just plain text. Microsoft Word offers built-in tools and layouts created specifically for this purpose, letting you map out a visual timeline with minimal effort. 

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

How to Create a Timeline in Word for Windows

  1. To get started, first open a new Word document or continue working in an existing one. 

    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 should open, overlaying the main Word window and 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 offered. If this is your first attempt at creating a timeline in Word, select Basic Timeline.

    a screenshot of the Basic Timeline option in Word for Windows

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

  5. Select OK. A timeline template should be inserted into your document, along with the floating SmartArt Text interface now accompanying the main Word window.

  6. Select any of the fields labeled "Text" from this floating interface and type or paste the verbiage you wish to add to the corresponding section, each of which is highlighted whenever its value is selected.

    screenshot of a sample Basic Timeline in Word for Windows

    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.

  7. To add additional items to your timeline, press 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 in this interface.

  8. By default, all timeline items are displayed at the uppermost level from a hierarchy standpoint, making each a major or parent milestone. You can also demote (or promote) a timeline item so it becomes a sub-milestone. Just right-click it 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

  1. Open a new Word document or continue working in an existing one. 

  2. Click Insert > SmartArt or Insert a SmartArt Graphic, depending on your version of Word.

    a screenshot of the Insert ribbon in Word for macOS
  3. Click 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.

    a screenshot of the Process SmartArt options in Word for macOS

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

  4. A timeline template should 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" from this floating interface and type or paste the verbiage you wish to add to the corresponding section, each of which is highlighted whenever its value is clicked.

    a screenshot of the Basic Timeline template in Word for macOS

    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.

  6. To add or remove items from your timeline, select the Plus (green) or Minus (red) found within the SmartArt Text interface.

  7. By default, all timeline items are displayed at the uppermost level from a hierarchy standpoint, making each a major or parent milestone. You can demote (or promote) a timeline item so it becomes a sub-milestone. Click it, then click the right arrow (Demote) or left arrow (Promote) found in the SmartArt Text toolbar.

  8. To shift an item to earlier or later in the timeline, click 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 might be a fit for your particular timeline. 

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

  2. A number of thumbnail images representing available timeline and process layouts will be displayed. To view more, click the accompanying left and right arrows on macOS or scrolling down on Windows.

  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.

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 so you can try out multiple colors until you find an ideal fit.

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

  2. On macOS, select Change Colors from the toolbar. On Windows, select Color.

  3. A pop-out window should now 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, so it doesn't have an effect on your timeline and can be ignored.

Sprucing Up Your Timeline With SmartArt Styles

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

To apply a SmartArt style, on macOS, click 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 in macOS, or overlaying your timeline in 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.