How to work with multiple documents in Microsoft Word

Learn tricks for opening, viewing, and managing multiple documents in Microsoft Word.

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Image: iStockphoto/rvolkan

If you ever need to view and work with multiple Microsoft Word documents at the same time, Word has several features to help you with that maneuver. You can easily switch back and forth between each document. You can view two or more open documents horizontally or side by side. You can work with each document separately. You can also enable synchronous scrolling to scroll through two documents together. Let's check out some of these helpful Word features.

I'm using Word from an Office 365 subscription, but the following information will apply to the past few versions of Word as well.

LEARN MORE: Office 365 Consumer pricing and features

To start, launch Word and open two documents—maximize both of them. You can switch from one document to another a couple of ways. In either document, click the View tab, click the Select Document icon, and then select the document you wish to see (Figure A).

Figure A

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Alternatively, you can press Alt-Tab to view and cycle through all your open windows and then choose the document you want to view (Figure B).

Figure B

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Maybe you want to see both documents on the screen at the same time. In either document, make sure you're at the View Ribbon and click the icon for Arrange All. The two documents open horizontally with one window on top of the other. You can work with each document independently. Your toolbars and Ribbons remain the same size, so all the necessary commands and features are accessible (Figure C).

Figure C

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If you'd rather work with the two documents vertically, click the icon on the View Ribbon for View Side By Side. You can do this in either window. The two windows are rearranged vertically (Figure D).

Figure D

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Perhaps you want to work with one document full-screen but then return to the two-window layout. Maximize the document you want to see full-screen. When you're done, click the Restore icon to bring back the previous two-window layout.

By default, each document window works independently, so you can scroll in one document without affecting the other. You can also scroll through both documents at the same time. To do this, make sure both documents are in side-by-side mode. In the View Ribbon, click the icon for Synchronous Scrolling (it's the second small icon to the right of Arrange All)—you'll need to activate this icon in both windows. Now try scrolling in one document—the other document should scroll in tandem. To turn off synchronous scrolling, click the same icon in one or both windows.

Maybe you want to throw another document or two into the mix. On a practical level, you don't want to juggle too many documents at the same time because then the process becomes unwieldy. But perhaps you just want to open a third and even a fourth document to find information or copy and paste content from one document to another.

SEE: 30 things you should never do in Microsoft Office (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

First, return to the original horizontal layout by clicking off the View Side By Side icon (it's the first small icon above the icon for Synchronous Scrolling). Then, go to File and Open. Click Browse to get to a File Manager window. If you want to open more than one additional document, simply hold down the Ctrl key and then select the documents you need.

After the new documents appear, go back to the View Ribbon. You can use the Switch Window icon or the Alt-Tab keystroke to jump from one document to another. If you want to see them all on the screen, click Arrange All. The layout you get will depend on how many documents you're viewing. But viewing four or more documents at the same time may be awkward, as you can't see much of each document. You can try Side By Side View and choosing which documents you want to view side-by-side. You can also zoom in and out and change the view in each document in other ways. Here's one tip that can help: Collapse the ribbon in each window—click the Collapse The Ribbon icon all the way at the right of the Ribbon. That will free up more space for you to see more of each document (Figure E).

Figure E

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By Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books—one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.