Can topic sentences be outlined in MS word after the full text has been written? I would like to use Word's outline feature to revise a paper. I need to work on the first sentences of the paragraphs. (There are no delayed topic sentences.) I want to keep the remaining subordinate sentences connected so that when I resequence topic sentences in outline view the rest of each paragraph comes along for the ride.

What I've tried so far:

  1. Seeing the entire paper slightly reformatted in outline mode but with all text visible isn't sufficiently focused to be useful for my purpose.
  2. I'm willing to assign styles manually to each topic sentence if needed. (I'll have to undo the assignments later since I'm using a journal template, so I'm willing take the reformatting only so far.) If I define a paragraph style I can set the outline level. But using a paragraph style doesn't allow me to separate each topic sentence from the remaining sentences in the same paragraph.
  3. I tried defining a character style to apply only to the topic sentences. But I see no way to set an outline level for a character style.
  4. Outline allows viewing of only the first line of each paragraph. But it's a technical paper with an unfortunate plethora of long words. As a lame make-do I tried making the page dimensions very wide, hoping for a longer first line even though seeing the start of some second sentences would be distracting. But the enhanced width doesn't carry through to outline view.

Ideas please?

  • I've been fiddling around with Word headings, and I've just about come to the conclusion that since they are paragraph styles and not character styles, any heading style you create is going to have to exist on its own line, which is bad formatting for a topic sentence.
    – RobJarvis
    Jun 11, 2021 at 19:56

1 Answer 1


I am using Word 2016, so your UI may differ slightly if you are using a different version, but here is a hacky workaround that might serve your purpose:

  1. Create a character style based on your normal paragraph style and call it something like "TopicSentence". Do not change the formatting, so it looks just like the rest of the text.
  2. Select your topic sentences and apply the TopicSentence style.
  3. Ctrl-F to open the Find dialog, then click Advanced Find.
  4. Click the More>> button.
  5. In the Format dropdown, select Style.
  6. In the "Find Style" popup, select the TopicSentence style and click OK.
  7. Leave the "Find what:" box empty.
  8. Click the "Reading Highlight" dropdown and click "Highlight all".

This will cause all your formatted topic sentences to be highlighted. You can remove the highlight by clicking the "Reading Highlight" dropdown and selecting "Clear Highlighting." Now your topic sentences look normal again.

  • Much appreciate, including knowing this is about as good as it gets.
    – InColorado
    Jun 12, 2021 at 21:03

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