Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Moving Master and Subdocuments.

Moving Master and Subdocuments

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 22, 2023)
This tip applies to Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


Word includes a feature whereby you can create a master document and then insert subdocuments within the master. Unfortunately, Word does not allow you to easily move the master and subdocuments from one place to another. If you do, you will get an error the next time you open the master document and Word attempts to then open the referenced subdocuments.

This happens because Word (for whatever reason) keeps the internal references to subdocuments in pretty much an absolute format, in relation to the master. For instance, let's say that you have a master and five subdocuments. If these are all in the same directory, you can easily move them to another single directory anywhere you desire. All you need to do is move them.

Similarly, let's say you have the master document and then the subdocuments are contained in a directory called Chapters, and that the Chapters directory is a subdirectory contained in the same directory where the master document is located. If you move the master document and the entire Chapters subdirectory to another drive or another directory, you will have no problem. This is because you have not disturbed the relative position of the subdocuments in relation to the master.

The problem comes in when you want to change the relative positions. For example, if you wanted to leave the master document where it was but change the Chapters subdirectory to a different drive. In this instance, Word would not be able to locate the subdocuments when you opened the master.

To correct this problem, don't move the files directly. Instead, you have to go through this process:

  1. Open the master document and make sure that all your subdocuments are displayed.
  2. Switch to Outline view or, if you are using Word 97, choose Master Document from the View menu. This displays the subdocuments (or links to the subdocuments) with a box around it and an icon at the top-left of the box.
  3. Click on the hyperlink or double-click on the icon for the subdocument you want to move. The subdocument is opened in its own Word window.
  4. Choose Save As from the File menu. Word displays the Save As dialog box.
  5. Specify the new name and/or directory for the subdocument.
  6. Click on the Save button. The subdocument is saved under the name you specified.
  7. Close the subdocument. (The easiest way is to just click the big red close X in the upper-right corner of the document window.) Your master document should again be displayed.
  8. Repeat steps 3 through 7 for each subdocument you want to move.
  9. Save and close the master document.
  10. Delete the old subdocuments from the old location.

There are also some third-party solutions available for moving or managing subdocuments. If you do a lot of moving of subdocuments, you may want to investigate those solutions. Simply go to any good software source on the Internet and search for the terms "Word" and "subdocument."

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1740) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Moving Master and Subdocuments.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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