User Interface Overview

The user interface is kept as simple as possible to avoid distractions when writing. This page lists all the main GUI elements, and explains what they do.

The Project Tree

The main window contains a project tree in the left-most panel. It shows the entire structure of the project. It 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.
Column 2
The second column shows the word count of the document, or the sum of words of the child items for folders. 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 included in the final project build or not. You may want to filter out documents that you no longer want to keep in the final manuscript, but want to keep in the project for reference.
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.

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.

The label, status or importance setting, the layout, and the include flag can all be edited using the Item Settings dialog box. The dialog can be opened from the Project menu, or by pressing F2 with the item selected.

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 tab under the project tree. 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 ones, as that would imply restructuring the content of the document files.

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. 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 Outtakes allow both.

Project Tree Drag & Drop

The project tree allows drag & drop to a certain extent. This feature is primarily intended for reordering your documents within each root folder. Moving a document in the project tree will also put it in a different place when you build the novel project.

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. Novel documents cannot be moved out of the Novel folder, except to Trash and the Outtakes folders. Notes can be moved freely between all root folders, but keep in mind that if you move a note into a Novel, its “Importance” setting will be reset to the default “Status” setting. See Document Importance and Status.

Folders cannot be moved at all outside their root tree. Neither can a folder containing documents be deleted. You must first delete the containing documents.

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 Project menu, the right-click context menu, 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 below. 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 Settings 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. 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 and reveal its location in the project tree, 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 through with the arrow buttons in the top–left corner of the viewer. If your mouse has back 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 allows 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.

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 the second tab on the right hand side of the main window labelled Outline. 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.


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 by right clicking the header and selecting the columns you want to show. The order of the columns can also be rearranged by dragging them to a different position.


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 F10. You can also enable automatic updating in the Tools menu, which will trigger an update whenever the index is updated and the Outline tab is active. You may want to disable this feature if your project is very large,

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