Browsing and reorganizing a long document can be tedious work–there’s a lot of scrolling, often times right past what you’re looking for. Reorganizing is also difficult when you must combine large cut-and-paste tasks with all that scrolling. However, thanks to Word 2010’s new Navigation Pane, these tasks are much simpler, because you can bypass all that manual frustration. This pane displays headings in outline format, making it easy to find missing and misplaced content and restructure large sections by dragging headings. With a few clicks or a short drag, you’re done!

For the Navigation Pane to work for you, apply Word’s built-in heading styles. If you don’t like the styles’ attributes, change them. This feature is new to 2010 and continues in 2013; the information in this article applies to both versions. Word 2007’s counterpart is the Document Map feature. It doesn’t support the drag-and-drop feature, and I don’t discuss it in this article. You can work with any document, or you can download the example .docx file. This file comprises several paragraphs of repetitive text and different level headings. I’ve kept it simple, so it’s easy to work with–but this pane’s benefits will quickly become apparent.

Getting started

The Navigation Pane isn’t enabled by default. To view it, click the View tab, and then check the Navigation Pane option in the Show group. Figure A shows the resulting pane with our simple example document. Try to imagine a long document with lots of headings and subheadings quickly reduced in this simple, top-to-bottom view.

Figure A

Display the Navigation Pane.

The sample document has two main levels, four second-level headings, and one third-level heading. The pane can accommodate up to nine levels. Each level is indented by its respective position, making it easy for you to visually spot both main sections and subsections.


Reducing your document to a visual outline is great, but you can use the headings in the pane to navigate through your document (hence the pane’s name). To quickly jump to a section, simply click that heading in the pane. No more scrolling! At this point, I want to remind you that the only reason this works is because I used the built-in heading styles in the example document, as you can see in Figure B.

Figure B

Use the built-in heading styles.

By default, the pane displays the headings. To view thumbnails, as shown in Figure C, click the Pages option at the top of the pane. Similar to the headings, you can click a page to jump to that page in your document.

Figure C

View thumbnails instead of headings.

Adding and deleting

Adding a section isn’t difficult unless the document is long–then finding the right spot can become a scrolling nightmare! Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic. You can use the Find feature to find the section before or after, but what happens if you’re not sure where you want to put the new section? Perhaps you have a general idea of where you want to put the new section, but you don’t remember the headings in the area. When this happens, the pane is invaluable for providing the bigger-picture view you need to determine the right spot in the document.

Once you find the right spot, adding the new section is simple. For example, let’s add a new Formatting Basics section to the beginning of the Formatting main section as follows:

  1. Right-click the heading before or after the position. In this case, right-click Formatting methods.
  2. Choose New Heading Before (Figure D).
    Figure D
  3. The pane will insert a new blank heading and position the cursor at the appropriate spot in your document. As you enter the new heading text, Word enters the new text in the document (Figure E) and updates the pane at the same time.
    Figure E

If you decide that the new section should be a subheading, you can right-click the new heading in the pane and choose Demote. Similarly, if you decide it should be a main heading, you’d choose Promote. Doing either updates the heading in the pane and changes the heading style for the heading text in the document accordingly. You could do it manually, of course, but the pane is more efficient.

Deleting a section is also easy. Simply right-click the heading and choose Delete as shown in Figure F. If you change your mind, press [Ctrl]+[Z] or Undo in the Quick Access Toolbar.

Figure F

Delete a section.


Moving large chunks of text is awkward at best, and this is where the new Navigation Pane really excels. By dragging headings in the pane, you can quickly move entire sections of text. Let’s move the Changing Themes subsection to the first main section under Theming as follows:

  1. Select the Changing themes section. Notice that Word also selects the text in the document.
  2. Hold down the mouse and drag that section up using the black rule that appears (Figure G) as your guide.
    Figure G
  3. Drag the heading until the rule is under or below the position where you want the heading to reside, and then release it (Figure H). Word will move the entire section–its heading and all of its text.
    Figure H

That’s certainly easier than finding the section visually while scrolling, selecting the entire section (sometimes a section can comprise multiple pages) and then dragging or copying the section to the new position, after scrolling more to get there!

About the triangles

You’ve probably noticed that the triangles in the headings are both black and clear; that means something. Before we discuss their colors, you should know that you can use these triangles to collapse and expand sections and subsections. For instance, to collapse the Formatting main heading, simply click that black triangle. As you can see in Figure I, a clear triangle points to the right.

Figure I

Use triangles to collapse and expand sections.

The black triangle indicates subsections that are visible. The clear triangle indicates subsections that are hidden. If there’s no triangle, the section has no subsections.

The bigger picture

Moving the About themes section was good practice, but structurally, it doesn’t belong there. Using the pane alone, you can quickly expose misplaced and missing sections. In this case, it’s easy to see that the About themes subsection doesn’t belong in the main introductory section–nor does it belong where it was in the Formatting main section. It requires a new Theming main section. Let’s put everything you’ve learned to practice and make that improvement:

  1. Select the Formatting main heading because we’re adding a new heading at the same level.
  2. Right-click that heading and choose New Heading After (Figure J).
    Figure J
  3. Enter the new main heading text, Theming.
  4. Select and drag the About themes section to the new Theming main section (Figure K).
    Figure K
  5. Release the About themes section (Figure L).
    Figure L

Now the About themes and Changing themes subsections (including that sections third-level section About Quick Styles) are under the main Theming heading. There are other improvements you could make. You might consider more consistent subheadings. Also, there’s an argument to be made that the Formatting and Theming main headings could disappear, and all of your subheadings could become third and fourth-level sections in the first sections. These are decision that the Navigation Pane can help you make and then implement.

Worth noting

You might have noticed the Results option at the top of the pane. Word’s Find feature is now part of the Navigation Pane. Use the Search control just above the view options to enter search text, then use the Results view to explore them further.

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