I sent out an email yesterday following a comment about Open Office on my 1-Click Book Creation Facebook page, and have received a couple of additional comments back. I won’t reiterate them here (click here to check out the post if you want to – if you haven’t liked the page, it would be good if you could), but one topic that was briefly mentioned was Microsoft Word’s master and sub-documents functionality.

Microsoft Word’s Master and Sub-documents Functions

If you’re unfamiliar with these, it’s a collaboration tool within Microsoft Word which allows you to setup a ‘master’ document, and then split the remainder of the document down into sub-documents. You can then distribute or allow access to them, so a team of people can work on them.

As only 1 person can work on any Microsoft Word document at a time, it becomes ‘locked’ when open, this is a great tool for getting large, or urgent documents completed.

But, apart from training/teaching purposes, there isn’t any other reason for creating a master and sub-document arrangement, so, if you’re the only one working on a document, don’t bother.

The whole thing is done automatically based on Word headings (and is yet further reason why you shouldn’t mess with Word styles, or create your own style to do what a built-in style can do), though you can add separate documents manually if you wish.

Note: Word’s built-in styles have many more functions, benefits, and reasons for using them as opposed to your own, but I’ll talk about them in a later post.

Notorious For Corruption

The main problem with these years ago, before the 2007 shift to the current ribbon interface design, was master documents were notorious for becoming corrupted.

When I used to work in teams of Technical Authors, we would use this facility to share work and allow collaboration and, it would only be a matter of time before the whole thing would fall apart and you’d get Word’s ‘Unable to load the content, this document is corrupted’ message (or words to that effect).

This would happen much more frequently when you were getting near to 180 or so pages.Master and sub-documents in Microsoft Word

If you managed to get over 200 without it corrupting, lucky you!

That’s why we used to shy away from using them, whenever we could.

Honestly, it was easier to write separate documents and then copy and paste them in at the end, and format the finished work in the normal way than to use Word’s master/sub-docs functions.

Now though, since the shift to the xml-based system (that’s why the document suffix changed from .doc to .docx, .dot changed to .dotx – x for xml), corruption has been rare.

Far more Stable

Word is now far more stable than it’s ever been.

As for Master and Sub-documents…well, personally, I’ve not used them in over 10 years; so, comments on how stable they are is not something I’m qualified to say.

However, I know Word, I remember well the other causes and areas where documents would become corrupt, and these rarely happen in Word now.

Given that, it’s likely that Master document corruption in Word 2007+ is a thing of the past also.

I’ll record a quick video to show you how these work, but it’s purely for my own curiosity purposes: if you have a need for them in your business, then you’ll need to explore the Master and Sub-documents functionality further yourself.

For me, I’ve no cause to use them.

I’ve zipped the folder and files and enclosed them via the link below, if you want to play about with what I quickly created:


Click to download the zip file of the docs used in the video