Recently, a Sandpoint reader asked me how best to create a 400-page manual in Word. She really likes the automatic Table of Contents feature, but after using Word for a 70-page manual, she was worried about how it would cope with a document that was likely to be six times longer.
She was wise to think about this question BEFORE she got started. Many people don’t and experience untold levels of frustration as they try to make Word work for long documents. The bad news is that although Word has built-in long document features, the longer the document gets, the more unstable Word becomes.
There are two main rules to follow when creating long documents in Word. One: don’t use the Master Documents feature. It hasn’t ever worked correctly in any version of Word. So unless you happen to have a perfect installation, the perfect combination of service patches, and a lot of luck, it probably still won’t work for you either. My advice is just don’t go there.
Second: break your document up into separate files, such as chapters. As I noted, the longer a document gets, the more unstable Word becomes. If you include graphics or tables, you add another level of complexity. The more complex the document, the more unstable it’s likely to be as it gets longer. Even if you break your document up into separate chapter files, you can still create a table of contents and index. The trick is to use fields.
In your table of contents or index document file, you use Word’s RD (Referenced Document) fields. The RD fields retrieve your chapter files just long enough for Word to compile the table of contents or index.
You can find lots of information about how to use Word fields in the Word help file. Creating long documents in Word is a large topic and there is a page on our web site that explains it fully.