User Interface

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:

The first column shows the item icon and its label. The labels can be edited from the menu, or by pressing F2 or CtrlE. The label is not the same as the title you set inside the document, but it will appear in the header above the document text itself.
The second column shows the word count of the file, or the sum of words in the child items if it is a folder. If the counts seem incorrect, they can be updated by rebuilding the project index from the Tools menu, or by pressing F9.
The third column indicates whether the file is included in the final project build or not. You may want to filter out files that you no longer want to keep in the final manuscript, but want to keep in the project for reference.
The fourth column shows various meta data flags for the item. The first is an icon indicating the importance or status of the file. These are colour coded status levels that you control and define yourself. They can be changed in Project Settings from the Project menu. The first character after the icon indicates the class of the item, that is N for Novel, C for Character, etc (see Tag References. The second character indicates the file layout type (see Project Roots).

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.

Editing and Viewing Documents

To edit a document, double-click the file in the project tree, or press the Return key while having it selected. This will open the file in the document editor. The editor uses a simplified markdown format. The format is described in the Markdown Format section below. The editor has a maximise button (activates Focus Mode) and a close button in the top-right corner.

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. The document viewed does not have to be the same document 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 little 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 file can be shown. This can be set in the Preferences dialog from the Tools menu. Clicking on the document title bar will select and reveal the file in the project tree, making it easier to find the project location of the file in a large project.

Any reference to a tag in the editor can be opened in the viewer by moving the cursor to the label and pressing CtrlReturn. 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.

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 it, 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.


The References panel relies on an up-to-date index of the project. 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.

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.


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.

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, but this feature isn’t always accurate.


If the editor 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.

Markdown Format

The document editor uses a simplified markdown format. That is, it supports basic formatting like emphasis (italic), strong importance (bold) and strikethrough text, as well as four levels of headings.

Some non-standard markdown features have been added. For instance, novelWriter allows for comments, a synopsis tag, and a set of keyword and value sets used for tags and references.


Four levels of headings are allowed. For files of type “Note”, they are free to be used as you see fit, but for all other file layouts used for the novel text itself, they indicate the structural level of the novel. See Importance of Headings for more details.

# Title
Heading level one. If the file is a novel file, the header level indicates the start of a new partition. This heading level can also be used for the title page novel title.
## Title
Heading level two. If the file is a novel file, the header level indicates the start of a new chapter.
### Title
Heading level three. If the file is a novel file, the header level indicates the start of a new scene.
#### Title
Heading level four. If the file is a novel file, the header level indicates the start of a new section.


The space after the # characters is mandatory. The syntaxhighlighter will change colour and font size when the heading is correctly formatted.

Text Emphasis

A minimal set of text emphasis styles are supported.

The text is rendered as emphasised text (italicised).
The text is rendered as strongly important text (bold).
Strikethrough text.

In markdown guides it is often recommended to differentiate between strong importance and emphasis by using ** for strong and _ for emphasis, although markdown generally supports also __ for strong and * fdr emphasis. However, since the differentiation makes the highlighting and conversion significantly simpler and faster, in novelWriter this is a rule, not just a recommendation. The following is therefore the only supported formatting syntax:

There are also some additional rules:

  1. The emphasis and strikethrough formatting tags do not allow spaces between the words and the tag itself. That is, **text** is valid, **text ** is not.
  2. More generally, the delimiters must be on the outer edge of words. That is, some **text in bold** here is valid, some** text in bold** here is not.
  3. If using both ** and _ to wrap the same text, the underscore must be the inner wrapper. This is due to the underscore also being a valid word character, so if they are on the outside, they violate rule 2.

Comments and Synopsis

In addition to these standard markdown features, novelWriter also allows for comments in the text files. The text of the comment is ignored by the word counter and not exported or, optionally, hidden when viewing the document. If the first word of a comment is Synopsis: (with the colon), the comment is treated specially, and will show up in the Project Outline View in a dedicated column.

% text...
A comment. The text is not exported by default (this can be overridden), seen in the Viewer, or counted towards word counts.
% Synopsis: text...
A synopsis comment. It is generally treated in the same way as regular comments, except that it is captured by the indexing algorithm and displayed in the Project Outline View. It can also be filtered separately when exporting the project to for instance generate an outline document of the whole project.

Tags and References

The document editor supports a minimal set of keywords used for setting tags, and making references between files. The tags and references can be set once per section defined by a heading. Using them multiple times under the same heading will just override the previous setting.

@keyword: value
A keyword argument followed by a value, or a comma separated list of values.

The available tag and reference keywords are listed in the Tag References section.

Additional Markdown and Non-Standard Features

The editor and viewer also supports markdown standard hard line breaks, and preserves non-breaking spaces if running with Qt 5.9 or higher. For older versions, the non-breaking spaces are lost when the file is saved. This is unfortunately hard-coded in the Qt text editor.

  • A hard line break is achieved by leaving two or more spaces at the end of the line. Alternatively, the user can press CtrlK, Return to insert this.
  • A non-breaking space is inserted with CtrlK, Space.
  • Thin spaces are also supported, and can be inserted with CtrlK, ShiftSpace.
  • Non-breaking thin space can be inserted with CtrlK, CtrlSpace.

These are all insert features, and the Insert menu has more. They are also listed in Insert Shortcuts.

Both hard line breaks and non-breaking spaces are highlighted by the syntax highlighter as an alternate coloured background, depending on the selected theme.

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, not the files.

The document file 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 file in the editor.


Since the internal structure of the novel does not depend on the file structure of the project tree, these will not necessarily look the same, depending how you chose to organise your files. 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 content changes, 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,

Synopsis Column

The Synopsis column of the outline view takes its information from a specially formatted comment. See Comments and Synopsis. In order to flag a comment as a synopsis, add the word Synopsis: as the first word of the comment. The : is required, and the word synopsis is not case sensitive. If it is correctly formatted, the syntax highlighter will indicate this by altering the colour of the word.


Only one comment can be flagged as a synopsis comment for each heading. If multiple comments are flagged as a synopsis comment, the last one will be used.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Most features are available as keyboard shortcuts. These are as follows:

Keyboard Shortcuts
Shortcut Description
Alt1 Switch focus to the project tree.
Alt2 Switch focus to document editor.
Alt3 Switch focus to document viewer.
Ctrl. Open menu to correct word under cursor.
Ctrl, Open the Preferences dialog.
Ctrl/ Change block format to comment.
Ctrl- Strikethrough selected text, or word under cursor.
Ctrl0 Remove block formatting for block under cursor.
Ctrl1 Change block format to header level 1.
Ctrl2 Change block format to header level 2.
Ctrl3 Change block format to header level 3.
Ctrl4 Change block format to header level 4.
CtrlA Select all text in the document.
CtrlB Format selected text, or word under cursor, with strong emphasis (bold).
CtrlC Copy selected text to clipboard.
CtrlD Wrap selected text, or word under cursor, in double quotes.
CtrlE If in the project tree, edit a document or folder settings. (Same as F2)
CtrlF Open the search bar and search for the selected word, if any is selected.
CtrlG Find next occurrence of search word in current document. (Same as F3)
CtrlH Open the search and replace bar and search for the selected word, if any is selected. (On Mac, this is Cmd=)
CtrlI Format selected text, or word under cursor, with emphasis (italic).
CtrlN Create new document.
CtrlO Open selected document.
CtrlQ Exit novelWriter.
CtrlR If in the project tree, open a document for viewing. If the editor has focus, open current document for viewing.
CtrlS Save the current document in the document editor.
CtrlV Paste text from clipboard to cursor position.
CtrlW Close the current document in the document editor.
CtrlX Cut selected text to clipboard.
CtrlY Redo latest undo.
CtrlZ Undo latest changes.
CtrlF7 Toggle spell checking.
CtrlF10 Toggle automatic updating of project outline.
CtrlDel If in the project tree, move a document to trash, or delete a folder.
CtrlEnter Open the tag or reference under the cursor in the Viewer.
CtrlShift, Open the Project Settings dialog.
CtrlShift/ Remove block formatting for block under cursor.
CtrlShift1 Replace occurrence of search word in current document, and search for next occurrence.
CtrlShiftA Select all text in current paragraph.
CtrlShiftD Wrap selected text, or word under cursor, in single quotes.
CtrlShiftG Find previous occurrence of search word in current document. (Same as ShiftF3)
CtrlShiftI Import text to the current document from a text file.
CtrlShiftN Create new folder.
CtrlShiftO Open a project.
CtrlShiftR Close the document viewer.
CtrlShiftS Save the current project.
CtrlShiftW Close the current project.
CtrlShiftUp Move item one step up in the project tree.
CtrlShiftDown Move item one step down in the project tree.
F1 Open the documentation. This will either open the Qt Assistant, if available, or send you to the documentation website.
F2 If in the project tree, edit a document or folder settings. (Same as CtrlE)
F3 Find next occurrence of search word in current document. (Same as CtrlG)
F5 Open the Build Novel Project dialog.
F6 Open the Writing Statistics dialog.
F7 Re-run spell checker.
F8 Activate Focus Mode, hiding the project tree and document viewer.
F9 Re-build the project index.
F10 Re-build the project outline.
F11 Activate full screen mode.
ShiftF1 Open the online documentation in the system default browser.
ShiftF3 Find previous occurrence of search word in current document. (Same as CtrlShiftG)
Return If in the project tree, open a document for editing.


On macOS, replace Ctrl with Cmd.

Insert Shortcuts

A set of insert features are also available through shortcuts, but they require a double combination of key sequences. The insert feature is activated with Ctrl-K, followed by a key or combination for the inserted character or punctuation.

Keyboard Shortcuts
Shortcut Description
CtrlK, - Insert a short dash (en dash).
CtrlK, _ Insert a long dash (em dash).
CtrlK, . Insert ellipsis.
CtrlK, 1 Insert left single quote.
CtrlK, 2 Insert right single quote.
CtrlK, 3 Insert left double quote.
CtrlK, 4 Insert right double quote.
CtrlK, Return Insert a hard line break.
CtrlK, Space Insert a non-breaking space.
CtrlK, ShiftSpace Insert a thin space.
CtrlK, CtrlSpace Insert a thin non-breaking space.