How to Create Long Documents in Word

This is a long treatise on creating long documents in Word. I could have broken it up into more pages, but I figured that you either care about this topic or you don’t. This way, if you do care, you can print it out for reference later. (Note that it was written in circa Word 6-2000 days, but many of the principles still apply.) 

Historically speaking, Word hasn’t exactly excelled at creating long documents. The problem with long documents like manuals or books is that they often require cross references, graphics, tables of contents, and indexes. If you attempt to create long documents in Word, you must consider the trade-off between file size and stability. Bigger files are less stable, so when you create large documents, try to keep your file sizes as small as possible.

If you were to buy into Microsoft’s marketing hype, you might want to try using the Master Document feature to work with your long documents. But in Word 6 and Word 95 the Master Document feature (and we use that term loosely) didn’t work. It was horribly unstable and scary to use. So in general everybody has avoided it and work arounds were developed. This page explains a few of them.

Use Sections

If you have a huge document, make each chapter (or other logical section) a separate document. Divide the document so that each chapter ends up being fewer than 50-pages. For medium-sized documents (fewer than 50-pages), use section breaks to divide your document into chapters. Breaking a document into sections lets you format each section differently, as if each section were its own document. Within a section, you can change formatting such as headers, footers, numbering, and columns.
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Work with Breaks

Every document you create is just one big section. To insert a new section, choose Insert, Break and select a type of break.
Four types of section breaks exist:

  • Next Page. Begins a new section at the top of the next page.
  • Continuous. Begins a new section, but doesn’t insert a page break. The break is at the insertion point. Continuous section breaks are often used with columns or when part of a document should be protects, such as a form.
  • Even Page. Starts a new section on the next even-numbered page (usually the left-hand page in a book). If the break is on an even-numbered page, the next odd-numbered page is left blank.
  • Odd Page. Starts a new section on the next odd-numbered page (usually the right-hand page in a book). If the break is on an odd-numbered page, the next even-numbered page is left blank.

In the Break dialog box, you also can insert page breaks and column breaks, which are useful for forcing text to end in a certain place. If you need to delete breaks, it’s easier to see them in Normal view than it is in Page view. For example, a page break appears as a dotted line with the words Page Break to distinguish it from the soft page breaks that Word inserts automatically at the end of every page.
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Create Headers and Footers

Long documents generally have headers and footers to help people figure out where they are in the document. Headers and footers printed at the top and bottom (respectively) of every page in a document and contain repeating text. Books, for example, are often set up with the book or chapter name in the header and the page number in the footer.

If you want your document to have different headers and footers on the odd and even pages or a different header or footer on the first page, you must choose File, Page Setup and click the Layout tab. Click the options for Different Odd and Even pages or Different First Page, depending on what you want to do.

If you want the footers to be the same on all the even pages in all the sections of a document, you can link them together. When you change even-page footer in the first section, the even-page footers in the following sections change as well. The header or footer information also can be different in each section if you break the link to the previous section. Unlinking a header or footer from the previous one makes it completely separate from the contents of the headers or footers in the other sections.
To create a header or footer

  1. Choose View, Header and Footer.
  2. In the Header and Footer toolbar, click the Switch Between Header and Footer button to move your cursor into the header or footer area.
  3. Enter information into the area within the dashed line. Click the page number, date, or time buttons to add this information.
  4. Click the Same as Previous button to link the header or footer to the previous section. I
  5. Click Show Previous and Show Next buttons to view the other headers and footers in the document, if you have different first, odd, or even pages set up or multiple sections.

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Format Page Numbers

After you add a page number, changing it is less obvious. To format a page number, highlight the page number and choose Insert, Page Numbers. Click Format and change the options.
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Use Fields

A field is a hidden code you insert to tell Word to do something. For example, the page number you insert into a footer is a {PAGE} field. In general, you see the result of the field (in this case, the page number) rather than the field code. To see field codes, choose Tools, Options. In the View tab, click Field Codes. Some fields are formatted as hidden text, so you may need to place a check mark next to Hidden Text to see certain field codes such as a table of contents.

Many fields have optional instructions called switches. You add a switch by including a backward slash character () and instruction to customize the field result in some way.

These fields are often used in long documents:

  • XE. Used to add an index entry. You enter text in an XE field that you want included in the index when you generate it using an INDEX field.
  • INDEX. Used to create an index. The INDEX field reads the index entries you add with XE (Index Entry) fields and collates them into an index. An INDEX field can be added by choosing Insert, Index and Tables.
  • TOC. Used for creating a table of contents. The TOC field collects entries for a table of contents using the built-in Heading 1-9 styles, styles you specify, or entries you specify using TC (Table of Contents entry) fields. A TOC field can be added by choosing Insert, Index and Tables.
  • TC. Used to add a Table of Contents entry. TC fields are useful if you don’t want to generate a table of contents using the built-in heading styles. The TC field can also be used for entries for other lists, such as a table of figures.
  • RD (Referenced Document). Used for temporarily retrieving files into a separate document such as a table of contents, so you can compile an index or table of contents using a TOC or INDEX field.
  • SEQ. Used to sequentially number items in a document such as chapters, tables, or figures. If you use SEQ fields, you can move text around (changing the numerical sequence) and reorder the numbers by updating the fields.
  • PAGEREF and REF. Used for cross references. PAGEREF inserts the page number of a bookmark’s location for a cross reference. REF inserts the contents of the bookmark.
  • IncludePicture. Used to insert a graphic. When you choose Insert, Picture, Word puts in an IncludePicture field. If you add a d switch, the graphic is linked to the original file (instead of embedded), which reduces file size.
  • IncludeText. Used to insert all or part of a document (using a bookmark) into another document. You can use the IncludeText field in conjunction with the REF or PAGEREF fields to create cross references across documents.

If you use fields, get to know the online help. All of the field codes and their switches are explained in the help.

These keyboard shortcuts are used for working with fields:

  • F9: Updates the selected fields. To update all fields in a document, press Ctrl+A (Select All) and then press F9.
  • Shift+F9: Changes the selected fields between the field codes and the results.
  • Ctrl+F9: Inserts field code brackets { }, so you can type in a field code directly instead of using the Field dialog box. Most fields don’t update automatically. If you have done something that affects a field result, make sure to update the fields.
  • Ctrl+Shift+F9: Unlinks a field. Unlinking a field permanently replaces the field with its result.

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Use SEQ Fields to Number Chapters

You can use SEQ fields to number repeating items in a large document. These fields can be formatted in many ways and you can reset the starting number. For example, to create a numbering scheme with the chapter number and then the page number (1-1, 2-1, 3-1, etc.), you use an SEQ field to set the chapter number. You assign a name to each numbering sequence you create. If you want to create a numbering sequence called chapter, you’d use this code:

{ SEQ chapter r 3 }

The r switch sets the chapter number sequence to start at 3. Another switch you can use is c, which looks for the closest prior instance of that sequence and repeats the result. This switch is useful for inserting chapter numbers in headers or footers. For example:

Page { SEQ chapter c } - { PAGE }

If you place this text in the footer of Chapter 3, the result is Page 3-1.

You also can use the SEQ field switches to change the type of numbering. In the Insert Field dialog box, click the Options button to see the switches for the field. For example, if you want your Appendices to use letters rather than numbers for the chapter headings, this code numbers the chapter A:

{ SEQ Chapter r 1 *Alphabetic }

The *Alphabetic switch changes the numeric value 1 to the equivalent letter value (A). Begin the word Alphabetic with an uppercase A if you want an uppercase result.

You can use SEQ fields as an alternative to Word’s built-in numbering functions. Because the built-in heading numbering isn’t saved with the style, it’s lost if you have “automatically update styles” enabled in your chapters (which you might want to do to retain consistency across chapters). With all their switches SEQ fields also offer more control. For example, you can use a different sequence name for each level of heading, so the first instance of the this code results in 3.1.1 (assuming you are in Chapter 3):

{SEQ Chapter c}.{SEQ Heading2}.{SEQ Heading3}

SEQ fields also are good for numbering figures or tables. For example, this code could be used to number a figure followed by a caption:

Figure {SEQ Chapter c}-{SEQ Figure}. The Field Dialog Box.

Because the caption is created with SEQ fields, you can move the caption anywhere in the file or to another file. When you update fields, the SEQ field causes the figure to be renumbered to reflect its new location in the document.

SEQ fields don’t automatically show updated results, so you need to update the fields. Be sure to update the fields in all your documents using F9 before you generate a table of contents or index.
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Insert Index Entries

The Index Entry (XE) field is often used in large documents. To mark the text you want to incorporate into the index, follow these steps:

  1. Select a word or words to add as an index entry. Or you can enter different text by placing the insertion point where you want the XE code to appear.
  2. Press Alt+Shift+X. The Mark Index Entry dialog box appears.
  3. If you highlighted text, it appears in the Main Entry box. Otherwise, type your first-level index entry text. You also can type a second-level entry in the Subentry box. If you need a three-level index, you can follow the subentry text with a colon and type the third-level entry text.
  4. Click Mark. The Mark Index Entry dialog box stays open, so you can add entries.

After you have defined you index entries, you can create an index. In a short document, you can just add the INDEX field at the end of the document. In a large document, you may want to make the index a separate document and use RD fields as described next.
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Use RD Fields

When you create a table of contents or index for a large document that is composed of multiple files, you can use RD (Referenced Document) fields. The RD fields retrieve your chapters just long enough for Word to compile the table of contents or index. RD fields are hidden text, so to see them, you must choose Tools, Options and enable Hidden Text in the View tab.

Place the RD fields in the order the chapters should appear in the document. For example, the RD field for Chapter 1 should be listed before the RD code for Chapter 2, or the page numbers will appear out of order.
If the files you reference with an RD field are located in a different directory than the table of contents or index file, you must use double backslashes in the path name. For example, if you show hidden text and field codes, a table of contents file might look like this:

{ TOC }

Choose Insert, Index and Tables to insert the Index or TOC code; or use Insert, Field to insert the code directly. The Index and Tables dialog box has a lot of formatting options to help you create a custom table of contents or index.

The easiest way to create a table of contents is by generating it from the built-in heading styles (Heading 1 through Heading 9). Or you can click the Options button in the Table of Contents tab to assign different styles to specific TOC levels. Refer to the online help for more information about the TOC field code switches. For example, this field code tells Word the heading levels and sequence numbers to include:

{TOC o "1-3" s chapter }

The o switch indicates that World should include built-in Heading levels 1 through 3. The s switch says to include the chapter numbers from the sequence defined in the chapter SEQ fields. This TOC code gives you a three-level table of contents with a chapter-page (1-1, 2-1, 3-1) format.

Another way to use the built-in heading levels is to apply them to certain elements in your document. For example, to create a list of figures, you could apply the Heading 9 style to all of your figure captions. Then you use this field code {TOC o “9-9” } to create a table of figures.
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Create Cross References

You create cross references in Word by using bookmarks in conjunction with the PAGEREF field. Bookmarks mark a location in a document. The cross reference then points to the bookmark.

Bookmarks mark a place in the document that has a particular piece of information. A bookmark can indicate a specific location, or you can highlight text and have a bookmark span that piece of text. Then you reference the text enclosed in the bookmark or place it somewhere else.
To define a bookmark:

  1. Select a piece of text or a location.
  2. Choose Edit, Bookmark.
  3. Type a name for the bookmark. Bookmark names must begin with a letter and can contain letters, numbers, and underscore characters (but no spaces).
  4. Click Add. The new bookmark name appears in the list.

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Cross Reference Text in the Same File

Once you add bookmarks, you can create cross references. To cross reference information within the same file, choose Insert, Cross-Reference to add the reference. Cross references can refer to a bookmark, footnote, endnote, caption, or text formatted with the built-in heading styles.

To create a cross reference within the same document:

  1. Choose Insert, Cross-Reference.
  2. Choose a type of reference (Heading, Bookmark, Footnote, Endnote, Equation, Figure, Table) in the Reference Type box.
  3. Select the type of information you want to add into the document (such as a bookmark text or page number). The options depend on the type of reference you select.
  4. Select the item you want to create a reference to. For example, if you choose Bookmark, you see a list of all your bookmark names.
  5. Click Insert. The Cross-Reference dialog box stays open so you can continue adding references.

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Cross Reference Text in Other Files

You can’t use Insert, Cross-Reference to cross reference something in another file. Instead, you have to use the IncludeText field and pass it the bookmark name in the other file. The IncludeText field brings in just the text marked by a bookmark. If you are referencing text that doesn’t contain fields, you can use the IncludeText field and pass it the name of the file and the bookmark name:


Note that you must use double backslashes (\) to indicate the path name.

If you bookmark contains SEQ, PAGE, or other fields, they will try and update when IncludeText brings it into the new location. For example, a field that was 2.1 in the original file may end up as 3.2 after the fields update in the file with the cross reference. To prevent this problem, you add a ! switch to the field:


The ! switch prevents the field results from being updated unless they are updated in the original file.
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Reduce Document File Size

When you create large documents, try to keep the file sizes as small as possible. The more tables, graphics, and other features you include, the more likely you are to experience problems.

  • Try to keep your files fewer than 50 pages. If you have a lot of complex graphics and tables, you may want to make your chapters even shorter. The fewer features you use, the longer your document can be before you have problems.
  • Use SEQ fields to automatically number your sections and make your table of contents and indexes separate documents. In your table of contents or index, use RD (Referenced Document) fields to pull in the component parts of your document.
  • Use Insert, Picture to add your graphics. Linking graphics to the original files on your disk (instead of embedding them in the document) decreases the Word file size. Be sure a check mark appears next to Link to File when you insert pictures. Also make sure that no check mark is next to Save with Document. If you view field codes, inserted graphics will have a field code that looks something like this:

    The d switch tells Word to link the graphic to the original file instead of embedding it in the document.

  • If your file starts getting really slow, choose Tools, Options. In the View tab, click Picture Placeholders. This option tells Word to show each picture as a box, which is much faster than displaying the actual picture. The box Word displays is the same size as the actual picture, so your document pagination stays in tact.
  • Turn off background repagination when you work in Normal view. The now ancient Word 2 included a command called Repaginate Now that let you control when Word repaginated a document. If you work in Normal view a lot, you may want to add the command (called ToolsRepaginate) back into your Tools menu.

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About Susan Daffron

Susan Daffron is the author the Alpine Grove Romantic Comedies and multiple award-winning nonfiction books, including several about pets and animal rescue. Check out all her books on her Amazon Author page.