How to Reorganize Book Chapters with a Click

Close up of hands shuffling a deck of cards

One of my favorite MS Word tricks allows a novelist (or any book writer) to view and organize their chapters in the Navigation pane (an option under the View tab). Using this feature, I can see all my chapter titles at a glance, and I can go instantly to the one I want by clicking on its title. Moving a chapter to a different location is as easy as clicking and dragging it down the pane. Numbered chapters renumber themselves like magic any time I change their order.

If you ever need to add, delete, or move a chapter while you’re drafting, you can make good use of this trick.

How to Populate the Pane

To make chapter titles show up in the Navigation pane, tag them as headings. It’s a snap: Click anywhere in a chapter title and choose the heading you want from the Styles menu (under the Home tab). I’ll use Heading 1 to tag the chapter titles in the examples here. (In a typical book manuscript, chapters would be longer.) Clicking on Heading 1 causes the chapter title to format as a heading and simultaneously appear in the Navigation list.

Screenshot of a Microsoft Word document showing three short chapters, the Navigation pane’s list of chapters, and the Styles menu, with the Heading 1 choice highlighted

A Word document showing the first three book chapters and the list of all twenty-five chapter titles in the Navigation pane to the left of the document.

I don’t like Word’s look for Heading 1 (big and blue), so I changed it. When you modify a style, all the headings in your doc automatically change to the new look. I modified Heading 1 to match my text, using plain 12-point Times New Roman, plus centering, plus automatic numbering. See below (“How to Automatically Number the Chapters”) for how to modify a style.

Then What?

Once the Navigation pane is populated with your list of chapters (numbered or not, as you wish), you can do several things with it.

Navigate. Clicking on a chapter title in the pane will take you there immediately. If you split your screen to work in two chapters at the same time, the navigation pane doesn’t split. It remains whole and usable in both windows.

Search. Type a term into the search box at the top of the Navigation pane, and every chapter in the list where the term appears will be highlighted (as will the term itself throughout the document). The number of times the term occurs will be reported below the search box, and you can click through the results to see each occurrence in context. The search can be customized with various options in the search box’s dropdown menu, which will also call up the Find and Replace dialog box if you need to do more.

Screenshot of a Microsoft Word document showing the search feature in the Navigation pane. The titles of the two chapters where the term occurs are highlighted in the list, and the term is highlighted in the document itself.

Add or delete chapters. To add or delete a chapter from the Navigation pane, right-click on a chapter title and choose New Heading or Delete from the menu, as needed.

MS Word’s Navigation pane dropdown menu when right-clicking on a chapter title

Move (and renumber) chapters. This is my favorite feature. You can click on a chapter in the list and drag it to where you want it. Word automatically brings the whole chapter along. (It assumes that everything between one heading and the next one is a chapter.) Numbered chapters automatically renumber. (I find this hugely entertaining.)

How to Automatically Number the Chapters

Not everyone numbers their chapters, but numbers are handy while drafting, especially for those of us who procrastinate on giving our chapters actual titles.

A drawback to numbering chapters manually is that any time you delete a chapter or add a new one, or divide a chapter that somehow got way too long, you have to renumber all the chapters that follow. But this is the kind of task your word processor lives for. To make it happen, include Numbering as part of the Heading 1 style. Put your cursor somewhere within a chapter title that has already been formatted as Heading 1, and then click on Numbering (in the Paragraph group under the Home tab).

Numbering option in the Paragraph group under the Home tab in the MS Word ribbon

The chapter title your cursor is in will immediately acquire a number. But there’s one more step to telling Word that you want all Heading 1 titles to be numbered. To do this, call up the Styles pane by clicking the little expansion arrow in the lower right corner of the Styles group (under the Home tab).

Arrow for expanding the Styles pane from the Styles group under the Home tab in the MS Word ribbon

Click the dropdown arrow for Heading 1 in the Styles pane, and choose “Update Heading 1 to Match Selection.” All your Heading 1 chapter titles will instantly have numbers. From then on, anytime you insert or delete a chapter, they will renumber.

Expanded styles pane in MS Word, showing dropdown option to update Heading 1 to match selection

You can use the same method to make any change to your heading style: color, size, boldness, and so forth. Or make several changes at once by choosing the Modify option from the dropdown menu. You might not be able to resist options like adding an automatic page break before the chapter title or assigning a style for the paragraph that follows it.

Google Docs will give you a similar-looking list of chapters in what it calls a Document Outline pane if you assign heading styles. However, the Google Docs feature is limited and has some quirks. There’s no click-and-drag moving of chapters. And instead of listing only the titles you tag as headings, Google Docs will grab anything that looks like a heading (e.g., because it’s in bold and all caps or because it’s in a larger font) and include it in the list. (Word will do this too, but only if the AutoCorrect option “Define styles based on your formatting” has been checked.)


Once you begin using heading styles for your chapter titles, you can create a table of contents for your novel with a click or two. Place your cursor where you want the table of contents to appear, then go to the References tab and click on Table of Contents. From there, choose Automatic Table 1 (or whichever table you like). Voilà!

Top photo of card shuffling by Akshay Gupta, licensed under CC0 Public Domain.

Fiction+ posts at Shop Talk reflect the opinions of its authors and not necessarily those of The Chicago Manual of Style or the University of Chicago Press.

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Carol SallerCarol Saller, The Subversive Copy Editor, 2nd editionCarol Saller’s books include The Subversive Copy Editor and the young adult novel Eddie’s War. You can find Carol online at Twitter (@SubvCopyEd) and at Writer, Editor, Helper.

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3 thoughts on “How to Reorganize Book Chapters with a Click

  1. That’s great! I use the Navigation panel a lot but didn’t realise I could use it to swop chapters. That will be really helpful when I’m formatting our writing group’s next anthology. Thanks!

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