How to Use the Google Docs Outline Tool

Create an outline in Google Docs for the web, Android, and iOS Devices

Screenshot of an example Google Docs outline.

Long documents can be difficult to navigate in Google Docs. It’s fine to scroll through two or three pages of a document, but if your document is dozens or even hundreds of pages long, you could spend far too much time getting from one section of the document to another.

There’s also the problem of finding what you need in your document. Simply put: Without the use of a tool, long documents can be hard to manage.

Google Docs has a feature called the Outline Tool and it helps you quickly jump around your document and find sections that you need.

Finding the Google Docs Outline Tool

When you’re working from Google Docs on the web, you must start from an open document. It can be a new, or existing document. Then, to open the Outline Tool follow these steps:

  1. Click the View menu.

  2. Select Show document outline.

    A screenshot of Google Docs showing the location of the Show Document Outline option.
  3. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcuts Ctrl+Alt+A or Ctrl+Alt+H.

Once you’ve enabled the Outline Tool, the outline for your document will appear in the left-hand document pane.

If you’re using an Android or iOS device, to enable the document outline, tap More (the three dot menu in the upper right corner), and choose Document outline. The outline will appear at the bottom of the screen.

To disable the document outline on the web, click the X in the top right corner of the Outline Tool. On Android or iOS, tap anywhere outside of the outline to hide it, or repeat the steps above to disable the outline.

How to Make an Outline in Google Docs

Once the Outline Tool is enabled, creating or adding to the outline for the document is simple.

In Google Docs on the Web:

  1. For new documents, create a single line of bold or underlined text to automatically add a heading to the outline.

  2. For existing documents, format a single line of text using bold or underline formatting, or use the format menu to choose a heading option.

    A screenshot of Google Docs illustrating how to add headings to a document outline.

    If you want to create levels in your outline, you must format the headings using the Format menu to designate headings as Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, or Heading 4. Also, while the title will appear in an outline, the subtitle will not.

  3. You'll see your outline begin to take form in the Outline pane to the left of the document.

In Android or iOS:

  1. For new documents, create a single line of bold or underlined text to automatically add a heading to the outline.

  2. For existing documents, format a single line of text using bold or underline formatting, or use the format menu to choose a heading option.

    To format headings so they are assigned to designated levels in your outline, tap Format > Text > Style, and then choose the desired heading level. Also, while the title will appear in an outline, the subtitle will not.

  3. Your outline will display at the bottom of your screen.

Navigating a Google Docs Outline

Once you’ve created an outline in your Google Docs document, navigating through the document using the outline is easy. On the web, just click the section of the outline you want to access and your cursor will be moved to be beginning of that section.

On Android and iOS devices, open the outline and tap the place in the outline where you want to go. Alternatively, if the outline is enabled, but hidden, and you begin to scroll through the document you’ll see a double-arrow slider appear on the right side of the document. Tap that to open the outline, then select the location in the outline you want to go. As with other methods, your cursor is placed at the beginning of that section.