Navigating Your Word Document after Compiling from Scrivener

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I do all my writing in Scrivener. I love the way this tool lets me organize, categorize, slice, and dice everything related to my book. But when it’s time to edit, I compile it into Microsoft Word.

The problem I run into once I’ve compiled the manuscript into Word is navigating to specific chapters easily. I want the same ease of use so I can hop around from chapter to chapter in Word, just like I do in Scrivener.

To achieve this, my chapter headings need to show up as a Word Heading so that the chapters are treated as a top level in the Navigation Pane or a Table of Contents.

I looked for a simple compile setting in Scrivener, but couldn’t find anything addressing the issue. An Internet search returned an article by Alan Grainger on how to create a macro to change the formatting after exporting to Word, but that seemed more complicated than what I was looking for.

Right. So, when you can’t find someone else’s solution, it’s time to come up with one of your own.

Here is my step-by-step process to convert the chapter headings in my compiled Word document to actual TOC Headings in Word.

(Note: These steps assume your chapter headings begin with the word Chapter. If not, adjust the search parameters accordingly.)

Compile in Scrivener

Because everyone’s manuscript is different, I’m not covering how to configure your compile settings in Scrivener. These steps focus on formatting the document in Word after you’ve compiled from Scrivener. (But don’t worry, I’ve shared some helpful links below in case you’re not quite there yet on the compile feature.)

We’ll assume you have your Scrivener compile settings configured as you like and are ready to compile into Word.

Note: (For clarification, I am on a Mac using Scrivener 3 for Mac and MS Word for Mac. While the processes should be similar in Windows, the menu items/options may be in different locations or worded differently.)

  1. In Scrivener, select File > Compile…
  2. Make sure you have selected all the documents you want to compile along with any Front Matter or Back Matter. (Yes, I’ve included this step because I’ve forgotten to check and wound up with a partial manuscript. Oops.)
  3. Select the format you want to use, verify you are compiling for Microsoft Word, and click Compile.
  4. Give your Word document a name and select where you want to save it. Click Export.

Word should automatically open up with your compiled document when the compile process is complete.

Format in Word

1. To see the Navigation pane in Word, click on View in the top menu, then check the box labeled Navigation Pane in the ribbon bar. (Should be visible just left of center.)

2. When the Navigation Pane first opens, you’ll see small snapshots of your pages. Click on the icon that looks like a bulleted list symbol. (If you hover your mouse over it, it’s labeled as the Document Map.) There won’t be anything listed here yet as we don’t have any headings defined in the document.

3. Now click on the Search icon in the Navigation Pane. Type in the word “Chapter”, capitalizing as needed. You will immediately see the number of matches found. This should equal the number of chapters in your book.

4. Click the gear icon under the Find field and select Advanced Find & Replace…

5. On the Find tab, verify the Find what: field still contains “Chapter”.

6. On the Replace tab, expand the down arrow on the bottom left. Then click on the Format drop-down and select Style….

7. Select Heading 1 and click OK.

8. On the top half of the window, click the drop-down next to the Replace with: label and select [Formatting Only].

9. Verify that your settings show you are finding the word “Chapter” with no formatting and replacing with Style: Heading 1. The window should look like this:

Note: If the Format option under “Find what” has a value, click back over to the Find tab, then click No formatting at the very bottom to clear that value. (Not sure why Word sometimes does this.)

10. On the Replace tab, click the Replace All button in the middle of the window. You will get a pop-up window confirming the number of items replaced. It should match the number of chapters you have. Click Yes to confirm.

11. Now when you click back on the Document Map (or bullet point button) in the Navigation Pane, you will see your chapters listed. You can click on any of them to jump to that chapter.

From here, you can modify the Chapter heading format as needed in Word. (I like to center mine.) To change the format quickly, do the following:

  • Click on Home, then find the section in the ribbon bar showing the different formats.
  • Right-click on the Heading 1 format and select Modify…
  • Change settings as desired, then click on OK. Word will apply to all Heading 1 instances throughout the document.

And one more tip for you… if something went wrong, don’t panic. Your compiled document is still saved. You can use the wonderful Undo (cmd+z or ctrl+z) feature to revert back to what you had before performing the Find and Replace or you can simply re-open the document from your hard drive.

More Resources for Compiling in Scrivener

As promised, here are additional useful articles and resources for you on compiling in Scrivener:

  • Compile Workflows by Bobby Treat is a list of topics on compiling in Scrivener.
  • The ScrivenerVirgin blog by Anne Rainbow is another great source of information about all things Scrivener. This post includes links to several articles about compiling in Scrivener 3.


So that’s my process. What do you think? Too much work? Is there an easier way? (For Pete’s sake, please share if there’s an easier way!!)

What tips and tricks have you accumulated for compiling with Scrivener?

Follow me on Twitter at @LancyMcCall for more discoveries, insights, and surprises from my writing journey.

Happy Writing!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Storyman

    Excellent article. I’ve looked in every nook and cranny on the Internet for a solution of a way to compile a Scrivener document so there would be headers in Word.

    This is a minor tweak. Instead of using ‘Chapter’, use HD1 instead along with the header title you ultimately want, then do the same for HD2, and so on.

    Convert the headers as you’ve outlined. Once done do a search and replace. Use HD1 as the search item, leaving the replace section empty. After you’ve searched and replaced you’ll find the HD1 sections are minus the HD1 with the titles you’ve originally intended remaining.

    1. Lancy McCall

      This is a wonderful addendum to the article describing how to set up headings and subheadings using the same technique.

      Thank you for sharing!

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