How to check coverage of a topic in a Word document

image Long name. Suppose you are writing a document about a particular product, topic, concept or idea. In a long document you want to quickly check if the topic has been covered across the document (or presentation).
You may not have realized it yet, but you can actually use Find All option here. Read on to understand how…

The need

Let us say we have created a long document or presentation about a concept. For example, we will choose Work Efficiency as the concept. I have a 40 page document with lots of headings and subheadings. How do I check whether the topic is covered fully or not?

Usually we have multiple things to check for coverage. For example, even though the document is about Efficiency, I also want to know how I have explained about Inefficiency.

Similar situation arises with presentations. We know the core topic / objective / context. Typically we introduce the topic in the beginning, provide details in the middle and summarize it at the end. In a long presentation how are you going to find out the details?

Here is a simple, quick and effective solution. You need Office 2010 or higher for this to work.

Sample document

Use this file to follow along the steps shown in the article Download Sample Document

Open the document. Open View tab and select Navigation Pane if it is not already selected. Look at the navigation pane. It is a 36 page document with multiple headings and subheadings.


For this method to work, you must use styles to identify the main and sub headings (topics) in the document. To learn how to use styles – read this article
Be stylish – Use Word Styles. Heading 1 style is applied to main topic, Heading 2 for sub topic and so on. Up to nine levels of styles are available.

You can see the entire hierarchy of the document structure at a glance.

Check coverage

Now we want to check which topics have something written about inefficiency and efficiency – which is the central theme of the document.

Press CTRL F. The usual Find dialog DOES NOT open. The navigation pane is opened if it was not already open and the cursor moves to the Find textbox. Open the dropdown next to the Search textbox and choose Options.


In options, choose Whole words only. This is required because I want to find out about the coverage of two words – Efficiency and Inefficiency. If this option is not selected, searching for efficiency will also find Inefficiency.


Now type the word efficiency in the search box and see what happens. Now type inefficiency and compare the results.

image   image

Each topic or subtopic under which the search text is covered is shown in yellow.

For example, I have not covered the Efficiency context in the Organizational efficiency section. I have not covered either topic in the Conclusion section.

Knowing the distribution is important. Missing coverage does not always mean that it is an omission. But at least you know the coverage at a glance and then take an informed decision about where to go and add the relevant details.

This is a new way of assessing distribution of a thought or idea or concept across the document. Try this with your own documents and I am sure you will find some places where the key topic has been missed out.

I have used only two concept for searching. Depending upon your document contents and context you will need to search for more words or phrases.

What does the blue color indicate?

It shows where you are in the document currently. More precisely, it shows which topic or subtopic has the current cursor in the Word document.

In case of efficiency search, the current position in the document is under the Approaches for … heading. This heading also has the search word efficiency covered under it. Therefore, yellow color is applied to indicate coverage. The blue border indicates the current position in the document.

In case of inefficiency search, the current position is under the Individual heading. However, this heading does contain the phrase inefficiency. Therefore, the color is not yellow. As there is no clashing background color, the entire heading is shown in blue.

Understanding these small nuances will simplify searching and editing documents. These things are not documented. Even if the documentation does exist, there is very little chance that you would have learnt this by reading it – because we will never search for it!

Noticing what happens on the screen carefully and being curious about WHY something is the way it is will help you learn in a very simple but effective way.

Remember: Everything that is shown on the screen has a purpose and it is trying to help you. Therefore, it is in your interest to notice these things and use them to your advantage.


Heading without content

There is another related situation. Often we create a structure containing topics and subtopics. As the document becomes larger and larger, you may forget to add something in a particular topic or subtopic. If you send this document to customers or submit it as a formal report or thesis or dissertation, this type of mistake looks unprofessional.

How to know which topics you have not written under?

On the face of it there seem to be two options:

  1. Scroll, scroll, scroll…
  2. Open navigation pane, click on each heading and check

Obviously, both these methods are repetitive – and hence inefficient.

Here is the smart way.

Open View tab and choose Outline View. This shows headings with + or – signs and normal paragraphs with dots. We only want to show headings. Open the dropdown Show Levels and choose Level 9 (ideally choose the highest level you have used. But even if you choose level 9, it will show only what is available).


Now all the headings and subheadings collapse and miraculously you can quickly find items under which you have written nothing.

coverage of a topic in Word Document

Minus sign means empty heading. Brilliant. Is it not?

What next?

Try this out with your documents. You will then realize how useful it is. You must check the key concepts coverage just before finalizing every document.

In the next article, I will demonstrate how this concept can be used in PowerPoint.


3 thoughts on “How to check coverage of a topic in a Word document”

Comments? Suggestions? Wish list?