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How to create and view an outline in Google Docs

Outlines make it much easier to organize and navigate longer documents, and Google Docs is no stranger to the feature. Find out how to create and view your first outline.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Min Shin
A woman using her laptop in a busy cafe.
Image: Tom Werner/Getty Images

I'm a Google Docs power user. I use Google's cloud-based office suite for writing both nonfiction and fiction. Although I don't use many of the advanced features when writing nonfiction, those fiction documents over 60,000 words that I write tend to see more demand for those features.

One such feature is the outline. Now, to some users, an outline won't really matter. But when you start dealing with longer, more complicated documents, outlines can really make a difference in how easily you can navigate them.

Consider this. You have a document that's hundreds of pages and includes chapters in the double digits. Say, you know you need to do some work on chapter 25. 

You could scroll through the document until you find what you're looking for. Or you could hit [Ctrl]+[F] and search for "Chapter 25." Either way isn't terribly efficient.

Also: How to use Google Docs Version History

So, what do I do? I create the document such that it automatically adds an outline and is readily available to view as needed.

How to create and view an outline in Google Docs

Let's see precisely how this is done.


The only thing you'll need for this is a valid Google Workspaces account. The outline feature is available to both the free and paid accounts. I've been working with the free account for decades and haven't had any problems.

With that account ready, let's create an outline.

This is so easy that you'll wonder why you haven't been doing it for years. When creating your new document, the important thing to consider is your headings. Google Docs offers H1, H2, and H3, which are all quite common. Each of these headings creates a new entry in the outline. However, it's not quite that straightforward.

Also: How to add more fonts to Google Docs (and why you might want to)

The headings are nested, relative to their number. So, any H1 heading will be the parent head, H2 headings will be children of H1, and H3 headings are children of H2. The hierarchy is simple and effective, but it's important that you understand how it works before you start laying out your document formatting.

Here's how to format the document and view the outline.

1. Format your document

To create a heading, chapter, or sub-chapter, type the text that will serve as the title, select the text with your cursor, click the Normal text drop-down in the formatting toolbar, and select Heading 1, Heading 2, or Heading 3. Continue doing this until you have all of the headings formatted.

The Google Docs Text Formatting drop-down.

Formatting your headings in Google Docs.

Image: Jack Wallen

2. View the outline

To view the outline, click the outline button in the top left corner of your document. 

The Google Docs Outline button.

Your Google Docs outline is just a click away.

Image: Jack Wallen

3. Add a summary

From the outline view, you can click any one of the outline entries to automatically be taken to that point in the document. You can also click + to add a summary for the document. 

Also: The best collaboration apps: Top team tools

The summary is only visible in the outline, so you don't have to worry that it'll take up residency within the visible document.

A sample Google Docs outline.

Click + to add a summary to your outline.

Image: Jack Wallen

Once you're done viewing and using the outline, click the left-pointing arrow to dismiss it.

And that's all there is to creating, viewing, and using an outline in Google Docs. Once you start creating longer documents, you'll find the outline to be a most useful tool. Add this into your workflow to make for a more efficient Google Workspace experience.

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