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Why Don’t More Writers Know How to Navigate?
The absolutely fabulous Word tool that lets you structure and restructure as you write
I do a lot of ghostwriting, often working with teams of people who are experienced writers, editors, and executives, as well as their minions — people, in other words, who use Microsoft Word every day. I have yet to meet one who knows what I’m talking about when I describe Word’s most valuable (IMHO) feature: the Navigation Pane.
If you do use and love Word’s Navigation Pane, consider yourself part of the cognoscenti; you can stop reading here. But if you have never heard of this feature, please stay with me, especially if you write long complex documents, such as books, theses, briefs, or reports.
What is the Navigation Pane?
Think of the Navigation Pane as a living outline that displays your headings and sub-heads as you work to help you track backwards and forwards through your document and easily move sections around. No need to refer to a table of contents at the beginning for page numbers; the Navigation Pane allows you to click on a heading and go directly to that section or chapter. You can quickly move sections just by dragging their header to a new position in the Navigation Pane.
If you have a team working on a single document, the Navigation Pane allows everyone to quickly locate sections for review and revision.
To turn on your Navigation Pane in a Word doc, go to the toolbar, click VIEW, then check the box marked Navigation Pane (below the Ruler and Gridlines boxes):
The Navigation Pane will then appear as a column to the left of your document, and any text that you’ve designated as a Heading in the Styles bar will appear there:
Note that you can also use the Navigation Pane to view thumbnails of Pages or Search Results, just by clicking those tabs at the top of the Pane. Also note that in Word for Mac these tabs show up not as words but as icons representing pages, outline headings, revision changes, and search (Find & Replace) terms:
What’s it good for?
Whether I’m writing a novel or a book of nonfiction, I rely on the Navigation Pane to help me keep track of structure and material as I’m writing and revising. Some examples:
Organization — What I find most valuable about the Navigation Pane is that it offers a snapshot overview of each project’s layout and the flow of information. For this to work, you just need to get in the habit of using Styles. Remember, only captions styled as Headings show up in the Navigation Pane, but there’s an almost limitless range of Headings at different levels. I use Headings not only for official titles and section headers but also to mark recurring settings and characters so I can easily find them and assess their spacing and proportionality over the course of the work. I use lower level Headings for these tags, so I can easily distinguish them from chapter and main section titles in the Pane.
Reorganization — Let’s say you want to move a chapter earlier in your book. That’s easy if you’re using a PC (most unfortunately, this feature doesn’t work in Word for Mac). Just drag its Heading to the new destination in the Navigation Pane. All text within this chapter will move with it, including sections tagged with lower level headings. But this is why it’s so important to pay attention to your Styles. Heading 1 should be reserved for major section or chapter titles. If you inadvertently use Heading 1 to style the caption for a smaller passage within the chapter, that section will not automatically move with the rest. By the same token, if you only want a single scene to move when you drag its heading, then make sure there are no lower level headings following it. Otherwise, they’ll move too. To avoid confusion, I generally use only 3 or 4 levels of headings.
Searching — The Search/Find and Replace tab can be a lifesaver, whether you’re trying to locate information, checking to see if you’re repeating yourself, or looking to replace specific phrases. Just click the Search tab (or the magnifying glass in Word for Mac) and type in the words you’re hunting. Every instance of the term will then show up highlighted in both the Navigation Pane and the document, so you can easily jump from one to the next:
Easy reference — If you have a team working on a single document, the Navigation Pane allows everyone to quickly locate sections for review and revision. This speeds up and clarifies conferences and helps keep everyone — literally — on he same page.
Convenient Clean-up — The final advantage of this tool is that you can easily scrub any extraneous headings when you’ve completed your final edit. I suggest keeping one copy of the final draft with all tag headings, just for reference, and another to scrub clean. Simply scroll down the Navigation Pane of the “clean” doc to each heading you do not wish to keep. Delete the heading, reformat the page if necessary, and scroll to the next.
I cannot overstate how much mental work and exasperation this Word tool can save you. Whether you’re just starting to structure a large project or are deep in the revision process, it’s essential — and often feels impossible — to keep the whole puzzle in your head at once. Voila! The Navigation Pane lets you see all the pieces at a glance.
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