Note: Creating structured documents is an essential accessibility skill. It is relevant to everybody and can save you and your readers a lot of time and effort. Do not skip this!

Structured documents

  • How to mark headings with Heading styles
  • How to use the Navigation pane
  • How to automatically create a quick table of contents

The basic functionality is the same in all versions of Word but different versions differ a bit. We will use Word 2010 for all the examples and note the list of differences in a brief section at the end.

You can also watch one of these Load2Learn videos that will teach you how to create structured documents in the version of Microsoft Word you have in 4 minutes.

Using Heading styles

To get all the accessibility benefits of a properly structured documents, you must mark all headings with a Heading style.

This is incredibly easy and it also saves you time. A style is a formatting template, so just by one click, you can make the heading bold and bigger in size – or even a different colour. Your headings will also be more consistent

Step 1: Select the paragraph

To mark a paragraph with Heading style, you must first select it:

  • Click anywhere inside the text of the heading.
  • Do not select it the same way you select text by highlighting.

Step 2: Choose your style

In the Home tab of the ribbon, choose Heading 1 – Heading 9 from the Styles section.

If it is not visible, click on the arrows on the right hand edge to expand the Styles section.


To save even more time, you can learn to use keyboard shortcuts for the top 3 heading levels.

  • Heading 1 – Ctrl-Alt-1
  • Heading 2 – Ctrl-Alt-2
  • Heading 3 – Ctrl-Alt-3

You can learn more about keyboard shortcuts in a past post.

Using the Navigation pane

What is the Navigation pane?

The Navigation pane displays an outline of your document using the headings marked with Heading styles. You can then:

  1. View the outline of your document as you write
  2. Filter the outline levels you see
  3. Jump between different sections of your document
  4. Promote and demote entire sections in the outline
  5. Move whole sections

You can also use the Navigation pane to search your document.

Open the Navigation pane

Simply go to the View tab and tick Navigation Pane.

Since I use the Navigation Pane all the time, I like to add it to the top of my Word window. This means I can get to it from anywhere. 

To do that simply right click on the Navigation Pane tick box in the View tab and choose Add to Quick Access Toolbar.

Navigating with a Navigation pane

Click on any item in the Navigation pane and you will immediately jump to that section in the document.

If you are seeing too many headings, you can limit how many you see. Right click anywhere in the Navigation pane and choose Collapse all or Show heading levels.

  • Collapse all will only show you the top level headings
  • Under Show heading levels you can choose how many levels you want to see

Managing your outline with the Navigation pane

You can use the Navigation pane to manage your outline by using the Promote and Demote functions. You can access them if you right click on the heading you want to change.

  • Promote moves the heading you right click on and all its subheadings one level up in the outline. For example, if you click on a heading marked with Heading 2, it will become Heading 1 and any heading marked as Heading 3 following the heading will become Heading 2.
  • Demote is the opposite of Promote. It moves the heading you right click on and all its subheadings one level down in the outline.


Moving sections with the Navigation pane

You can also move entire sections around the document.

  1. Click on the section you want to move and hold the mouse button down.
  2. Move your mouse up or down while still holding the mouse button. The icon will change
  3. Release the mouse button to drop the section in the place indicated by the black bar that moves as you move the mouse between sections.

This procedure will move the heading you grabbed and all the text including subheadings following it. It is much less error prone than trying to select all the text and cut and paste it.

Create a Table of Contents

Insert a Table of Contents

If you’ve marked your document with Heading styles, you can insert a Table of Contents in three clicks of the mouse.

  1. Click on the References tab
  2. Click on the Table of Contents button
  3. Choose Automatic Table 1 or 2

Your other option is Insert Table of Contents which gives you more options:

  1. Choose what to do with the page numbers
  2. Choose how many Heading levels you want included in the Table of Contents
Update a Table of Contents

If you add more content to the document and want to make sure your table of contents is up to date, all you have to do is right click inside the Table of Contents and choose Update Field.

You can then choose to update the page numbers, if you only added new pages or update the table if you’ve also added new headings.

Differences between versions of Microsoft Word

Microsoft releases a new version of Microsoft Office which includes Word about every two or three years. They are all named after the year following the release. The versions you may currently come across on a computer are: 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016. There is also an online version with limited features.

See this video on how to tell which version of Microsoft Word you are using. differences


You can see a video on how to create structured documents in Word 2003.

  • Old version using traditional menus
  • Navigation pane called Document map

You can see a video of what’s new in in Word 2007 and a video of how to create structured documents in Word 2007.

  • Introduced tabs and ribbons instead of menus
  • Changed default formatting of the built-in Heading styles to include colour
  • Navigation pane called Document map but received some new features
  • Export to PDF through a plugin

You can see a video of what’s new in in Word 2010 and a video of how to create structured documents in Word 2010.

  • Renamed Document map to Navigation pane
  • Introduced ability to move sections around in the Navigation pane
  • Built-in ability to save directly into PDF with structured outline
2013 – 2015
  • No new features for structured documents
Office online
  • Can use styles but no table of contents or navigation pane

Word Document version of this post

Next time

In the next part, we will learn some advanced tips on making the most of structured documents in Microsoft Word.

Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist