How to Organise Your Manuscript using Word

Writing a novel can be a big unwieldy task. You’ve written 40,000 words or 90,000 words and you really need to know when you your protagonist sneezed for the first time, or when the octopus escaped, or when you last mentioned that minor character. It’s hard to keep track of it all, especially if you write in Microsoft Word as I do. It’s also hard to move quickly around a big document, as well as reordering chapters and scenes. But there is a part of the programme which should help: the Navigation Pane.

Yes, Scrivener – software designed for writers – will help with all this too, but I didn’t get on with it. If anything it was too complex and it too took long to get to know all its bells and whistles. I’ve written nearly all of my five novels (fifth finished recently) in Word. And I use Word’s Navigation Pane to help me keep track of what happened when. Here’s how you open it:

  • Open your work in progress (WIP) in Word
  • Click ‘View’ in the top ribbon
  • Tick the box next to Navigation Pane
  • A column called Navigation will open on the left hand side of your screen

In the Navigation Pane, under ‘Headings’ you’ll see a list of all the headings in your document. It might be that you can only see Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 etc if you’ve only used the ‘Heading 1’ Style in your document and have only given each chapter a number.

But if you write your chapter headings within your WIP as mini descriptions and create subheadings for scenes within that chapter, your Navigation Pane will become much more useful. So rather than only writing ‘Chapter 15’, you write something like, ‘15: UNIT – First morning’. And give it a Style of Heading 1. (Styles can be found under ‘Home’ in the top ribbon.) And you might break each chapter into scenes, and give each scene a title that you make a Heading 2 style – for example, ‘Day Eight’ and ‘Oct’. Making each chapter and scene title a mini summary of what’s in that chapter and scene will allow you to see the whole content of your WIP within the navigation pane.

Here’s a snippet of what my Navigation Pane looked like in an early draft of my most recent WIP. (Oct stands for Octopus)

I also write word counts for each chapter after the chapter heading so that I can check how the lengths work together. And I make a note in the chapter heading to remind me which of my writing groups have seen and commented on this chapter.

In the early stages of writing when I’m still finding my way I will often create headings for ideas. ‘Thoughts about Neffy’, or ‘Thoughts about the octopus’, creating new headings as I think of something that I don’t have a place for yet. These headings and notes stay at the end of the WIP until I find somewhere for them to go – but I always know they’re there because I can see them in the list of headings in the Navigation Pane.

How Navigate the Navigation Pane

Once you have given your chapters and scenes titles which make sense to you, and made sure they use one of the heading styles which Word provides, there are number of ways you can use the Navigation Pane:

  1. Move quickly around your WIP. Click on any heading or subheading in the Navigation Pane and you’ll be taken to that section of your WIP. No more scrolling through 90,000 words.
  2. See all headings or just top-level headings. If you have some subheadings for scenes in your WIP (such as Day Eight, and Oct in my example above), you can click the arrow in the Navigation Pane beside each chapter heading to expand or collapse the subheadings. So you can see just all your top-level Chapter headings, or everything below them.
  3. Easily move a section of your WIP. Hover over a heading or a subheading in the Navigation Pane, click and drag it somewhere else. It will take all your text below that heading (up until the next heading in the WIP) and move it to where you drop it.
  4. Find a word or phrase in your WIP. You can easily search your WIP using the Navigation Pane. Maybe I want to know when the character, Leon is first mentioned in my WIP. I type Leon in the ‘search document’ bar in the Navigation Pane and every instance of the word ‘Leon’ will be highlighted. I can use the up and down arrows in the Navigation pane to jump through the WIP from one Leon to the next. (This is very useful when I’m editing, if I know I use a particular word or phrase too often.)

I hope you’ve found this useful. If any of it isn’t clear, let me know. And if you already use the Navigation Pane and you’ve found other great uses for it, please do share them in the comments below.

Read another post about how to layout your manuscript.

Read about me and my books.

9 thoughts on “How to Organise Your Manuscript using Word

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I joined a writer’s group and was surprised by how many tools and software programs are available. This actually sounds like something I could use.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thought I knew how to use Word but I didn’t know all that. Tried Scrivner. Found I spent more time messing with it than I did writing. So you write your book as one large document? I’m writing each chapter as a separate Word document now (used to write as one big one but got confused cutting and pasting to move a scene but I can see your method removes that problem!) Do you then just delete the mini descriptions and the subheadings when it comes to submitting the book to someone?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I write my novel as one big Word document. Every time I do a major edit I do a Save As and rename it with a sequential number. I have other Word documents for research or thinking about a particular character or situation. I imagine that having lots of Word documents must be difficult – keeping track and finding things! This way solves that problem. And yes, before I submit it to my agent I remove all the descriptions and subheadings.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I find Scrivener the best way for me, but wish I could get back into word as I always have to export to word to send anything anywhere, then if I edit I have to make sure all the edits are copied back into Scrivener! I just read ‘Unsettled Ground’ by the way, and loved it. I could not put it down once I began reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Claire, this is so helpful. Using the navigation pane really does save time and im also thinking of adding brief descriptors of content as you suggested. Jo


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