Software

​How to use Word's Outline view to quickly sort long lists

Sorting a long list of terms manually in Word can be tedious in the extreme, but you can tackle the task quickly if you know how to harness the power of the Outline view.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/claudiobaba
Sorting a long list of words or phrases in a Microsoft Word document can be laborious if you do it manually, especially when each of the items also has text associated with it. This situation happened to me recently when I was tasked with creating a glossary of statistical terms and then alphabetizing them. However, as an experienced word processing veteran, I had a few tricks up my sleeve.

Taking advantage of some features available only when looking at a document in Word's Outline view, I was able to sort my glossary alphabetically, keeping all the definitions with the appropriate entries. More important, I was able to do this in just a few clicks of the mouse. Here is how it works.

Outline view

To illustrate this technique, I will alphabetize a list of 2016's most popular baby names, according to babycenter.com. Figure A shows the unsorted list.

Figure A

Figure A

The first thing you need to do is select the items in your list and apply a Heading style. For the example, I am using the Heading 2 style. Then switch to Outline view. Unfortunately, Outline view is not normally on the Quick Access Toolbar so you will have to navigate to the View tab on the Word Ribbon to find it. Figure B shows the unsorted list in Outline view.

Figure B

Figure B

Notice that I have collapsed the view to show only text in Heading 2 style or higher. In Word, the default configuration is to have each heading style represent a level in an outline, so Heading 1 is Level 1, Heading 2 is Level 2, etc. As long as each entry in your list is at the same level, you can use this trick successfully.

Now comes the important step. After collapsing Outline view to show only the level you are trying to sort, select your list and click the Home tab on the Word Ribbon. (Do not close Outline view or the trick won't work.)

Click the Sort button on the Home tab and you should see a screen similar to Figure C, asking how you want your sorting to proceed. It defaults to alphabetizing in ascending order, so for our purposes we can just click the OK button.

Figure C

Figure C

Note: If you have more than one level in your document, like we do in our example, you will want to select your list. If you don't, the whole document will be sorted, which is not what we want.

Now that the list is sorted alphabetically, you can close Outline view and look at your document in a more traditional view. Figure D shows our example document in Draft view.

Figure D

Figure D

The list is now alphabetized. Also notice how the text associated with each entry came along for the ride during our sorting process. All accomplished with a few mouse clicks and the unique power of Word's Outline view.

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Your thoughts

Do you know any tricks made possible by features found in obscure parts of Microsoft Word? Care to share?

About Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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