How to Build Document Outlines in Google Docs

994058 How to Build Document Outlines in Google Docs

Document outlines are a useful way to structure and organize longer documents in Google Docs. Outlines provide an overview of the document’s contents, allowing readers to quickly navigate to key sections.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the steps to create an effective document outline in Google Docs.


Before we begin, make sure you have the following:

  • A Google account
  • The latest version of Google Docs
  • A document started in Google Docs that you want to add an outline to

If you don’t have an existing document, create a new Google Doc to follow along with the tutorial.

Add Headings to Your Document

The first step is to add headings to your document content. Google Docs will automatically pull your headings into the outline.

Here’s how to add headings:

Highlight the Text

First, highlight the text you want to format as a heading. You can highlight a single word, phrase, sentence, or entire paragraph.

Open the Styles Menu

Next, open the Styles menu. In Google Docs, click Format > Styles from the toolbar.

Select a Heading

In the Styles sidebar, select the heading style you want. Google Docs has Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3 and so on. Heading 1 is the highest level, while Heading 6 is the lowest.

Select heading style

Image: How to select a heading style in Google Docs

Apply Changes

Once you’ve selected a heading style, it will automatically apply to the highlighted text. The text will become larger and bold.

Repeat this process to add headings throughout your document. Try to use a logical heading structure with higher levels for more general headings and lower levels for subsections.

View the Document Outline

Once you’ve added headings, it’s time to view the automatic document outline.

Here are the steps:

Click “View”

In Google Docs, click “View” in the top menu.

Select “Show document outline”

A dropdown will appear. Check the box next to “Show document outline”.

Show document outline

Image: How to enable the document outline in Google Docs

View the Outline Panel

The document outline panel will now appear on the left side of the screen. It contains an overview of all the headings you added, nested under the higher-level headings.

You can click the headings in the outline to instantly jump to that section in your document.

Customize the Outline

You have several options to customize the document outline and make it work best for your content.

Remove Headings

To remove a heading from the outline, hover over it in the outline panel and click the “Remove from outline” icon. The heading will still appear in the document but not the outline.

Add Headings

If you have a heading in your document that’s missing from the outline, you can manually add it back. Highlight the heading text, right click, and choose “Add to document outline”.

Promote/Demote Headings

You can also change a heading’s level in the outline by promoting or demoting it. Right click on a heading and choose “Promote” or “Demote” to shift it higher or lower in the outline structure.

Add a Summary

To help readers quickly grasp your document’s purpose, add a summary to the top of the outline. Click the “+” icon at the top and type in a short summary paragraph.

Use the Outline

Once your document outline is complete, use it as an aid while editing or sharing your document with others.

Here are some tips:

  • Click the outline headings to quickly jump around your document
  • Scan the outline first before sharing your document so readers can grasp the structure
  • Refer to the outline to ensure your content follows a logical flow
  • Collapse and expand outline sections as needed while editing to focus on a single part of the document

Keep the document outline panel open on the left side of the screen to take advantage of this useful Google Docs feature.


Adding and customizing a document outline is a great way to organize your longer Google Docs files. Outlines help you structure your content in a logical way and make it easy for readers to navigate through your document.

To recap, follow these key steps:

  1. Add headings using the Styles toolbar
  2. View the automatic outline under View > Show document outline
  3. Customize the outline by adding/removing headings as needed
  4. Use the outline panel to navigate and edit your document

By taking the time to create an outline, your Google Docs content will be more organized, easier to navigate, and better structured for your readers.