How to Keep Your Word Documents Organized

A little organization goes a long way when you are looking for files

Businessman with question marks over head
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If you spend more time looking for your Microsoft Word files than you do working on them, then it sounds like it's time to take advantage of some of the organizational features Word and your computer have to offer.

Instructions in this article apply to Microsoft Word 2019, Word 2016, Word 2013, Word 2010, and Word for Office 365.

Save All Word Files With Thumbnails

Saving every Word file with a preview image or thumbnail makes them easier to identify without opening them. You can save all Word documents with a preview or thumbnail image by following just a few steps:

  1. Open Microsoft Word. Open a blank document or any existing document.

    Screenshot showing File tab in a Word document
  2. Select the File tab and choose Info.

    Screenshot of Info tab on File window
  3. Select the Properties drop-down arrow and choose Advanced Properties. The Properties dialog will open.

    Screenshot of Advanced Properties in Word Properties drop-down
  4. Select the Summary tab of the Properties dialog.

    Screenshot of Summary tab on Word Properties menu
  5. Select the Save Thumbnails for All Word Documents checkbox at the bottom of the dialog box.

    Screenshot of Save Thumbnails for All Word Documents checkbox
  6. Select OK.

Update Word Document Properties

If you work with massive quantities of Word documents that have similar names and locations, you'll definitely want to take advantage of Word’s document properties feature.

  1. Open Microsoft Word. Open the document to which you want to add descriptive propertes.

    Screenshot showing File tab in a Word document
  2. Select the File tab and choose Info.

    Screenshot of Info tab on File window
  3. Select the Properties drop-down arrow and choose Advanced Properties. The Properties dialog will open.

    Screenshot of Advanced Properties in Word Properties drop-down
  4. Select the Summary tab of the Properties dialog.

    Screenshot of Summary tab on Word Properties menu
  5. Enter comments, keywords, category, title or subject information that could help you distinguish the files.

    Screenshot of descriptive Word Document Properties
  6. Select OK to apply the changes and close the dialog box. When it comes time to do a search, Word can find exactly what you need.

Make Folders on Your Computer and Use Them

Set up one folder for all your Word documents going forward and name it something you won't forget, such as MyWordDocs. Populate it with folders named to make sense to you, and use these folders to save and sort your Word files. If you are responsible for producing weekly meeting notes, for example, make a folder for those notes and include additional folders inside it for months or years.

Screenshot of subfolders in primary Word document folder

If you have years of Word documents scattered about on your computer and don't have time to open them and decide whether they are keepers or not, just make a folder for each of the years those old documents are from and drop all 2010 documents in one folder, 2011 in another and so on until you have time to revisit them.

Use a Consistent File Naming System

Establishing a naming system is perhaps the most important thing you can do to help when it comes time to find the files you want. There's no one right way to name your files, but picking a naming system and using it consistently is worth the effort. Suggestions are:

  • Include the type of document, so you can tell at a glance that any file name that contains "Contract," "Lease" or "Newsletter" isn't the letter you are looking for.
  • Begin the name with the client's name (or the recipient's last name if the documents are letters).
  • Include the date in the file name.

Take Your Time

If your computer is already brimming with files, don't try to tackle your organizational problems all at once. Break the job down into manageable pieces and spend 15 minutes a day working on it.

As you round up stray Word files on your computer, put them in one of the folders that you made, make a new folder, or delete them if you no longer need them. If you can't make up your mind, put them in a folder entitled HoldUntilDate and pick a date far enough away in the future that if you haven't opened the folder by then, you'll feel comfortable deleting it.

Whatever types of folders you make, put them all in your one big Word folder, so you'll know where to look.