Master Documents

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Editing.png This page is in a DRAFT stage.

The Master Documents are a powerful tool for working on a single large project divided into a number of sub documents while maintaining the coherence between the different parts.

Starting From Zero

First, we need to define a template with all the paragraph, character, and page parameters styles needed for our document.

To avoid consistency problems, we need to build our master document and the subdocuments from the same template.

Second, let's build a new document from our template. Without adding content to the document, go to File → Send → Create Master Document: Writer will ask you where to save the master document. Once the new .odm file is saved, we can close the empty document without saving it: we don't need it any more.

Third, we create, starting from the same template, one or more documents with the project content. It is possible, for example, to create one file for each chapter.

Documentation caution.png The sub documents cannot be edited from the master document, they must be edited independently as normal documents. The master document is a "container" that can be used to print the document as a whole.

To open the new master document, if it is not already started, open the Navigator, available as a deck on the Sidebar or as standalone panel ( F5  or View → Navigator). As we see in the screen shot, the Navigator's main toolbar will show some differences compared to the "normal" Navigator


The first button, that was grayed out on the normal Navigator, can now be used to toggle between the normal Navigator and the Master Document.

The fourth button is a menu to insert elements: with a long click on it we will see three options:

  • Index
  • File
  • New Document

The first option is clear: it inserts a table of content for the document.

The third option opens an empty document to be used as subdocument.

The second option can be used to insert an already created sub document. It is important to note that the sub documents are inserted above the entry selected on the list, so we must reorganize the sub documents using the two buttons to the right of the Navigator.

After a couple of sub documents are inserted, on the Insert menu there is a new option called "Text". This option can be used to insert text between two sub documents that will be part of the master document file. These entries can be used, for example, to separate groups of chapters, to insert the copyright page, and so on.

Documentation note.png With a double click on a document name displayed on the Navigator, this document is opened for editing. Another way to open the sub document is to select it from the list and then press the second button on the Navigator (the one with a flag and a pencil).

The third button on the navigator, also a drop down menu, can be used to update the master document. For example, if a change is made on a sub document while the master document is open, we need to update it independently to see the change on the master document.

Starting From an Existing Document

If we need to separate a single document on a master document and sub documents, from the document that needs to be split, as before File → Send → Create Master Document: now we need to pay attention to the option "Separated By". This option is used to select an outline level so the original document can be split each time a paragraph style with that outline level appears.

For example, if a paragraph style has the first level assigned as "Heading 1" and we choose to separate the document on the first level, each new sub document will have as content everything that is under a "Heading 1."

Cross References

If we need to make a cross reference to part of a sub document from another sub document, we need to "call" it. To do so, we must select the text or object to be referenced and under Insert → Field → Others → Cross References tab select "Set Reference" and give it a name before clicking on  Insert . Now, on the document from which we need to call the reference we go to Insert → Field → Others → Cross References tab and select "Insert Reference": on the field "Name" we type the name given before to the object we want to refer and press  Insertar .

Documentation note.png On the sub document we will see an error message (Error: Reference source not found) but this is not a problem because on the master document everything will be integrated and the reference will be shown without issue.
Documentation note.png We can make references to anything, not only the text of a heading but the number of a figure, the text of any paragraph, or a footnote.
Tip.png It is convenient to create a document (for example, on Calc) to keep track of all the cross references inserted on the document.

To update the master document, we use the third button on the Navigator, also a drop down menu (Update), by selecting the option "All" and accepting the option to update all links.

Documentation note.png Each time we open a master document Writer will ask if we want to update the links: we must say yes, otherwise the content will not be shown.

Putting Everything Together Again

If for any reason we need to put all sub documents and the master document into a single file, one possibility is:

  1. From the master document with all links updated, go to Format → Section
  2. One by one, select the sections and press  Remove 
  3. On File → Export, select as "File Format" the option "ODF Text Document (.odt)", give a new name to the file and press  Export 
  4. If you need to preserve the original master document, close it without saving the changes

The new .odt file will have all the content from the sub documents. Some minor "fine tuning" may be necessary.

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