The User Interface#

This sections covers in more detail what all the information on the user interface is for, and how you can organise your project, and how you use the editor, viewer and outline panel.

The Project Tree#

The main window contains a project tree in the left-most panel. It shows the entire structure of the project, and has four columns:

Column 1

The first column shows the icon and label of each folder, document, or note in your project. The label is not the same as the title you set inside the document. However, the document’s label will appear in the header above the document text itself so you know where in the project an open document belongs. The icon is selected based on the type of item, and for novel documents, the level of the first header in the document text.

Column 2

The second column shows the word count of the document, or the sum of words of the child items for folders and documents with subdocuments. If the counts seem incorrect, they can be updated by rebuilding the project index from the Tools menu, or by pressing F9.

Column 3

The third column indicates whether the document is considered active or inactive in the project. You can use this flag to indicate that a document is still in the project, but should not be considered an active part of it. When you run the Build Novel Project tool, you can filter based on this flag. You can change this value from the context menu.

Column 4

The fourth column shows the user-defined status or importance labels you’ve assigned to each project item. See Document Importance and Status for more details. You can change these labels from the context menu.

Right-clicking an item in the project tree will open a context menu under the cursor, displaying a selection of actions that can be performed on the selected item.

At the top of the tree, you will find a set of buttons.

  • The first button is a quick links button that will show you a dropdown menu of all the root folders in your project. Selecting one will move to that position in the tree. You can also activate this menu by pressing CtrlL.

  • The next two buttons can be used to move items up and down in the project tree. This is the only way to move root folders.

  • The next button opens a dropdown menu for adding new items to the tree. This includes root folders. You can also activate this dropdown menu by pressing CtrlN.

  • The last button is a menu of further actions on the entire project tree.


Under the Transform submenu in the context menu of an item, you will find several options on how to change a document or folder. This includes changing between document and note, splitting them into multiple documents, or merging child items into a single document.

Below the project tree you will find a small details panel showing the full information of the currently selected item. This panel also includes the latest paragraph and character counts in addition to the word count.

The Novel Tree#

An alternative way to view the project structure is the novel tree. You can switch to this view by selecting the Novel Tree View button in the sidebar. This view is a simplified version of the view in the Outline. It is convenient when you want to browse the structure of the story itself rather than the document files.


You cannot reorganise the entries in the novel tree, or add any new documents, as that would imply restructuring the content of the document files. Any editing must be done in the project tree. However, you can add new headings to existing documents, or change references, which will be updated in this view.

Document Importance and Status#

Each document or folder in your project can have either a “Status” or “Importance” flag set. These are flags that you control and define yourself. The app doesn’t do anything with them at all. To modify the labels, go to their respective tabs in Project Settings.

The “Status” flag is intended to tag a Novel document as for instance a draft or as completed, and the “Importance” flag is intended to tag character notes, or other notes, as for instance a main, major or minor character.

Whether a document uses a “Status” or “Importance” flag depends on which root folder it lives in. If it’s in the Novel folder, it uses the “Status” flag, otherwise it uses an “Importance” flag. Some folders, like Trash and Archive allow both.

Project Tree Drag & Drop#

The project tree allows drag & drop to a certain extent to allow you to reorder your documents and folders. Moving a document in the project tree will affect the text’s position when you assemble your manuscript in the build tool.

Drag & drop has only limited support for moving documents. In general, bulk actions are not allowed. This is deliberate to avoid accidentally messing up your project. If you make a mistake, the last move action can be undone by pressing CtrlShiftZ.

Documents and their folders can be rearranged freely within their root folders. If you move a Novel documents out of a Novel folder, it will be converted to a project note. Notes can be moved freely between all root folders, but keep in mind that if you move a note into a Novel root folder, its “Importance” setting will be switched with a “Status” setting. See Document Importance and Status. The old value will not be overwritten though, and should be restored if you move it back at some point.

Root folders in the project tree cannot be dragged & dropped at all. If you want to reorder them, you can move them up or down with respect to eachother from the arrow buttons at the top of the project tree, or by pressing CtrlShift and the Up or Down key.

Editing and Viewing Documents#

To edit a document, double-click it in the project tree, or press the Return key while having it selected. This will open the document in the document editor. The editor uses a Markdown-like syntax for some features, and a novelWriter-specific syntax for others. The syntax format is described in the Formatting Your Text section.

The editor has a maximise button (toggles the Focus Mode) and a close button in the top–right corner. On the top–left side you will find an edit button that opens the Item Label dialog for the currently open document, and a search button to open the search dialog.

Any document in the project tree can also be viewed in parallel in a right hand side document viewer. To view a document, press CtrlR, or select View Document in the menu or context menu. If you have a middle mouse button, middle-clicking on the document will also open it in the viewer.

The document viewed does not have to be the same document as currently being edited. However, If you are viewing the same document, pressing CtrlR again will update the document with your latest changes. You can also press the reload button in the top–right corner of the view panel, next to the close button, to achieve the same thing.

Both the document editor and viewer will show the label of the document in the header at the top of the edit or view panel. Optionally, the full project path to the document can be shown. This can be set in Preferences.


Clicking on the document title bar will select the document in the project tree and reveal its location, making it easier to locate in a large project.

Any tag reference in the editor can be opened in the viewer by moving the cursor to the label and pressing CtrlReturn. You can also control-click them with your mouse. In the viewer, the references become clickable links. Clicking them will replace the content of the viewer with the content of the document the reference points to.

The document viewer keeps a history of viewed documents, which you can navigate with the arrow buttons in the top–left corner of the viewer. If your mouse has backward and forward navigation buttons, these can be used as well. They work just like the backward and forward features in a browser.

At the bottom of the view panel there is a References panel. (If it is hidden, click the icon to reveal it.) This panel will show links to all documents referring back to the one you’re currently viewing, if any has been defined. The Sticky button will freeze the content of the panel to the current document, even if you navigate to another document. This is convenient if you want to quickly look through all documents in the list in the References panel without losing the list in the process.


The References panel relies on an up-to-date index of the project. The index is maintained automatically. However, if anything is missing, or seems wrong, the index can always be rebuilt by selecting Rebuild Index from the Tools menu, or by pressing F9.

Search & Replace#

The document editor has a search and replace tool that can be activated with CtrlF for search mode or CtrlH for search and replace mode.

Pressing Return while in the search box will search for the next occurrence of the word, and ShiftReturn for the previous. Pressing Return in the replace box, will replace the highlighted text and move to the next result.

There are a number of settings for the search tool available as toggle switches above the search box. They allow you to search for, in order: matched case only, whole word results only, search using regular expressions, loop search when reaching the end of the document, and move to the next document when reaching the end. There is also a switch that will try to match the case of the word when the replacement is made. That is, it will try to keep the word upper, lower, or capitalised to match the word being replaced.

The regular expression search is somewhat dependant on which version of Qt your system has. If you have Qt 5.13 or higher, there is better support for unicode symbols in the search.

See also

For more information on the capabilities of the Regular Expression option, see the Qt documentation for the QRegularExpression class.

Auto-Replace as You Type#

A few auto-replace features are supported by the editor. You can control every aspect of the auto-replace feature from Preferences. You can also disable this feature entirely if you wish.


If you don’t like auto-replacement, all symbols inserted by this feature are also available in the Insert menu, and via convenient Insert Shortcuts. You may also be using a Compose Key setup, which means you may not need the auto-replace feature.

The editor is able to replace two and three hyphens with short and long dashes, triple points with ellipsis, and replace straight single and double quotes with user-defined quote symbols. It will also try to determine whether to use the opening or closing symbol, although this feature isn’t always accurate. Especially distinguishing between closing single quote and apostrophe can be tricky for languages that use the same symbol for these, like English does.


If the auto-replace feature changes a symbol when you did not want it to change, pressing CtrlZ immediately after the auto-replacement will undo it without undoing the character you typed.

Project Outline View#

The project’s Outline view is available as another view option from the views bar. The outline provides an overview of the novel structure, displaying a tree hierarchy of the elements of the novel, that is, the level 1 to 4 headings representing partitions, chapters, scenes and sections.

The document containing the heading can also be displayed as a separate column, as well as the line number where it occurs. Double-clicking an entry will open the corresponding document in the editor.

You can select which novel folder to display from the dropdown menu. You can optionally also choose to show a combination of all novel folders.


Since the internal structure of the novel does not depend directly on the folder and document structure of the project tree, these will not necessarily look the same, depending on how you choose to organise your documents. See the Novel Structure page for more details.

Various meta data and information extracted from tags can be displayed in columns in the outline. A default set of such columns is visible, but you can turn on or off more columns from the menu button in the toolbar. The order of the columns can also be rearranged by dragging them to a different position. You column settings are saved between sessions on a per-project basis.


The Title column cannot be disabled or moved.

The information viewed in the outline is based on the project’s main index. While novelWriter does its best to keep the index up to date when contents change, you can always rebuild it manually by pressing F9 if something isn’t right.

The outline view itself can be regenerated by pressing the refresh button. By default, the content is refreshed each time you switch to this view.

The Synopsis column of the outline view takes its information from a specially formatted comment. See Comments and Synopsis.