How to Use Word 2010’s Outline View

By Dan Gookin

Word 2010’s outline feature allows you to group ideas or plot elements in a hierarchical fashion. You can then shuffle the topics around, make subtopics, and just toss around notions and concepts to help get your thoughts organized. You can use Word’s Outline mode to create lists, work on projects, or look busy when the boss comes around.

To enter Outline view, click the teensy Outline view button found on the status bar. The Outlining tab also appears when you activate Outline view.


In Outline view, you can take several actions:

  • Create a new topic. Press Enter at the end of each topic to create another topic at the same level as the first topic.

  • Split a topic. Press the Enter key where you want to break. For example, to split the topic Pots and Pans, first delete the word and, and then with the insertion pointer placed between the two words, press the Enter key.

  • Join two topics. Put the insertion pointer at the end of the first topic and press the Delete key. (This method works just like joining two paragraphs in a regular document.)

Creating subtopics

Outlines have several levels. Beneath topics are subtopics, and those subtopics can have their own subtopics. For example, your main topic may be Things I Regret, and the subtopics would be what those things actually are.

To create a subtopic, simply type your subtopic at the main topic level, but don’t press Enter when you’re done. Instead, click the Demote command button, found in the Outlining tab’s outline tools group. (The keyboard shortcut to demote a topic is Alt+Shift+→.)

Promoting a topic

Moving a topic to the right demotes it. Likewise, you can move a topic to the left to promote it. For example, as you work on one of your subtopics, it grows powerful enough to be its own main-level topic. If so, promote it. Put the insertion pointer in the topic’s text and click the Outlining tab’s Promote command button. (You can also press Alt+Shift+<– on the keyboard.)

Adding a text topic

When you feel the need to break out and actually write a paragraph in your outline, you can do so. Although it’s perfectly legit to write the paragraph on the topic level, you can stick in a text topic by using the Demote to Body Text button:

  1. Press the Enter key to start a new topic.

  2. Click the Demote to Body Text button.

    Alternatively, you can press Ctrl+Shift+N, the keyboard shortcut for the Normal style.

These steps change the text style to Body Text. Changing the text style to Body Text in your outline allows you to write a bit of text for your speech, some instructions in a list, or a chunk of dialogue from your novel.

Rearranging topics

The beauty of creating an outline on a computer is that you can not only promote and demote topics, but also shuffle them around and reorganize them as your thought process becomes more organized. To move a topic, click the mouse so that the insertion pointer is blinking inside that topic. Then choose one of these techniques to rearrange it:

  • Click the Move Up button (or press Alt+Shift+up arrow) to move a topic up a line.

  • Click the Move Down button (or press Alt+Shift+down arrow) to move a topic down a line.

Expanding and contracting topics

Unless you tell Word otherwise, it displays all topics in your outline, from top to bottom — everything. When your outline grows, you may want to see just part of the picture. You can expand or contract portions of the outline:

  • Collapse: A topic with subtopics has a plus sign in its circle. To collapse that topic and temporarily hide subtopics, choose the Collapse button or press Alt+Shift+_ (underline). You can also double-click the plus sign with the mouse to collapse a topic.

  • Expand: Click the Expand button or press Alt+Shift++ (plus sign). Again, you can also click the plus sign with the mouse to expand a collapsed topic.

Rather than expand and collapse topics all over, you can view your outline at any level by choosing that level from the Show Level drop-down list. For example, choose Level 2 from the list so that only Level 1 and Level 2 topics are displayed.