Susan Harkins explains how to use collapsible headings to turn long complex documents into a simple list of headings that readers can use as a table of contents.
The article "Use Word 2010's new Navigation pane to efficiently browse and organize documents" shows you how to use Word's Navigation pane to browse and organize documents. It's a helpful feature when working with a long document. Now, you can expand this idea using Word 2013's collapsible headings. Users can quickly decide what they need to read without the distraction of wading through content that doesn't concern them. If the content has the potential to overwhelm your readers, collapse the headings by default and let them decide what to read. You're probably already familiar with collapsible headings; they're widely used in web applications and pages and social media.
I'm using Word 2013 on a Windows 7 system. This feature isn't available in older versions of Word. You can download the example .docx file or work with a simple document of your own.
The document shown in Figure A has five paragraphs and five headings using a mix of (built-in) styles:
- Online Video is Heading 1.
- Professional Looking Documents is Heading 2.
- Themes and Styles is Normal.
- Button-quick Layout is Normal with some manual formatting.
- Reading View is Heading 1.
The sample document with five mismatched headings.
Now, let's see how this feature works as follows:
- Right-click any heading and choose Expand/Collapse.
- Select Collapse All Headings (Figure B).
If you were expecting to see all five headings (sans the paragraphs) you might be surprised at the results shown in Figure C. There's nothing wrong and there's no bug at work. Word is doing exactly what you told it to. This feature works with the highest hierarchical heading. In this case, that's Heading 1. All other heading styles are subordinate and the feature hides them. The same goes for the two headings that use the Normal style. When planning your document, this feature doesn't care if you use Heading 1 or Heading 4, as long as you apply it consistently as the highest applied heading.
Inconsistent headings return unexpected results.
Before you continue, display all of the content by right-clicking either heading, choose Expand/Collapse, and then selecting Expand All Headings. Then, apply Heading 1 to all five section headings. After doing so, use the Collapse All Headings command to see the results shown in Figure D. This time, Word displays all five headings.
Consistent headings display all five headings.
The collapsed sections resemble a table of contents (and are similar to the section headings you see using the Navigation pane). These headings promote easy browsing when working with a long document. To read a single section, click the right triangle (circled in Figure D) to the left. Doing so will display that section's text, as shown in Figure E. To collapse that section, click the triangle (circled in Figure E) to the left of the heading. If you don't see that arrow, hover over the heading.
Display a single section.
To expand two or more sections, select the headings for those sections. Then, right-click any of the selected sections and choose Expand/Collapse, and then select Expand Heading as shown in Figure F.
Choose Expand Heading.
The results are shown in Figure G. With the headings selected, choose Collapse Heading to rehide the text.
Expand multiple sections at once.
It won't take users long to figure out this simple collapse and expand setup:
- Expand All Headings and Collapse All Headings expand and collapse sections to the highest hierarchal built-in heading applied.
- Expand Heading and Collapse Heading will do the same with single or multiple (selected) sections.
When troubleshooting, remember that this feature works only in Word 2013, and you must use the built-in heading styles. Earlier, the feature failed to display three headings because of inconsistently applied headings. Keep this in mind when planning your documents or troubleshooting someone else's.
This feature might help readers find the information they need quicker, but you can put it to good use when organizing a document. Similar to the Navigation pane, you can use collapsed headings to make quick work of moving entire sections. For instance, let's move the Professional Documents section down a section as follows:
- If necessary, collapse all sections.
- Then, select the Professional Looking Documents heading (Figure H) and press [Ctrl]+[X] to cut the entire section (heading and text) to the Windows Clipboard.
- Position the cursor at the beginning of the Button-quick Layout section and press [Ctrl]+[V] to copy the section from the Clipboard (Figure I).
You can move contiguous sections at the same time by selecting the headings first. You can also use drag and drop.
Collapse by default
When designing the document, you decide which sections are collapsed by default. For instance, you might want to display an introduction or summary at the beginning and collapse all other sections. That way, the reader can quickly learn what's in the document and then decide which sections to expand. Fortunately, this is an easy process.
- Select the sections you want to collapse (Figure J).
- In the Paragraph group, click the dialog launcher (the small gray arrow in the right-bottom corner).
- In the General section, check the Collapsed by default (Figure K) option.
- Click OK.
- Save and close the document.
When you open the document, Word will expand any section not selected in step 1. All sections selected in step 1 will be collapsed, as you can see in Figure L. Your readers can use the collapsed headings similar to a table of contents.
Determine what the user sees by setting a default.
Collapsed sections won't print, but you can use this behavior to your advantage by printing only the information you need. Collapse sections you don't want to print and expand those you do, and then print!
Expand on ease of use
The true benefit of this feature is evident in a long complex document. You can collapse everything but the headings so readers can quickly find the information they need.
This feature takes only minutes to learn and, thanks to its common counterparts in other media, it's user-friendly. Most users will catch on quickly with little effort on your part. Word 2013's collapsible headings feature has a few rules of usage:
- You must use Word's built-in heading styles.
- This feature considers only the highest headings in the hierarchy.
For the best results, keep these two rules in mind when planning your documents.
Send me your question about Office
I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. Please mention the app and version that you're using. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers that I help. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.