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How to use the document overview in Google Docs

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If you use Google Docs as your writing program of choice, there is no better way to organize your content than with the Document Overview tool. This handy feature helps you structure and navigate your document by automatically creating an outline using headings in your document.

Open the document overview in Google Docs

Go to Google Docs, sign in to your account and open your document. You can display the document overview in just two clicks.

Click View> Show Document Summary in the menu to place a check mark next to it.

Click View, Show Document Summary

You will then see the overview window on the left side of your document.

Document overview in Google Docs

Add headings to the document outline

If the document outline is blank when you open it, it is because you don’t have any text formatted as titles or headings in your document.

Once you apply a title, subtitle, or other level of heading to text in your document, the document outline is automatically updated. It is displayed in a summary view that you are used to, with each lower level indented.

To apply a title or heading, select the text and click Format> Paragraph Styles from the menu or use the “Styles” drop-down list on the toolbar.

Click Format, Heading Paragraph Styles

Select the title or heading you want to use and you will see your text change. The document overview will now contain it.

Apply a heading for the outline

If you plan to use different heading levels, consider copying the formatting to help you create documents faster.

As you progress with your document and apply headings, the document outline is automatically updated for you. And if you rearrange, delete, or insert headings, the outline is instantly resized.

Remove headings from the document overview

There may be a situation where you don’t want a specific heading to appear in the document outline. Fortunately, you don’t have to remove it from your document or change the formatting.

Simply click the “X” to the right of the heading you want to delete in the document overview.

Click X to remove from the outline

Since the text will still remain in your document, you can easily add it back to the document outline if you wish. Select the text in the document, right-click and choose “Add to Document Outline” from the menu.

Right-click and choose Add to document overview

Use the document overview for navigation

The document overview in Google Docs isn’t just for displaying, it’s interactive. Clicking on a title or heading will take you directly to that place in your document. This is great when working with long reports, as it works just like a table of contents in Google Docs.

In addition, the document overview can help you keep track of where you are in your file. If your cursor is under a heading in your document, that heading will appear in blue, preceded by a dash in the outline. This is useful if you are working on a document that contains a lot of content or images between headings.

Blue font and outline dash

Close or hide the document overview

If you prefer a more distraction-free writing environment or only need the document outline occasionally, you can close it completely or hide it temporarily.

To close the document overview, click View> Show Document Overview in the menu to deselect it. It will then disappear from the screen. But if you choose to display it again, it will still automatically populate with your headings, assuming you keep the formatting.

Click View, Show Document Summary to remove the check mark

To temporarily hide the document overview, click the arrow in the top left corner of the overview itself. You’ll see it disappear from the screen and be replaced with a little outline icon instead. Just click on that Show Document Summary icon to view it again.

Icons to show and hide the document overview

If you enjoy using outlines to structure your documents, be it business reports, school papers, or even books, then you’ll love the Document Overview feature in Google Docs. It gives you a nice overview of your document, helps you organize your content and lets you navigate quickly.

RELATED: The beginner’s guide to Google Docs

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