User Interface

The user interface is kept as simple as possible to avoid distractions when writing. The main window contains a tree view pane with the entire structure of the project, and a small details panel below it to display additional information about the currently selected item.

Edit View

Editing a document can be done by either double-clicking on it, or hitting the return key when a file is selected. This will open the document editor, which uses a simplified markdown format, described in the section below.

The document currently being edited can also be viewed in parallel in a right hand side view pane. To view a document, simply press Ctrl-R, or select a file and go to Document ‣ View Document in the menu. The document viewed does not need to be the same document currently being edited. If you are viewing the same document as the one you’re editing, pressing Ctrl-R again will update the document with your last changes.

References to tags can be opened in the view pane from the document editor by moving the cursor to a reference to a tag and hitting Ctrl-Enter. In the view panel, the references become clickable links, and the “Referenced By” panel at the bottom will show links to all documents referring back to it.


The “Referenced By” panel relies on an up-to-date index of the project. If anything is missing, or seems wrong, the index can always be rebuilt from Tools ‣ Rebuild Index or by pressing F9.

Both the document editor and the viewer will show the label of the document as set in the Project Tree. Optionally, the full project path to the file can be shown. This can be set the Preferences.

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.

Markdown Format

The document editor uses a simplified markdown format. That is, it supports basic formatting like emphasis (italic), strong emphasis (bold) and strikethrough text, as well as four levels of headings. It is commonly recommended style to differentiate between strong emphasis and emphasis by using ** for strong emphasis and _ for emphasis, although Markdown generally supports also __ for strong emphasis 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.

In addition to these standard markdown features, the editor also allows for comments, that is text that is ignored by the word counter and not exported or, optionally, hidden in the document viewer. If the first word of a comment is “Synopsis:” (with the colon), the comment is treated specially, and will show up in the Outline View. The editor also has a minimal set of keywords used for setting tags and references between files.

Formatting Syntax
Format Description
# Title Heading level one. The space after the # is mandatory.
## Title Heading level two. The space after the # is mandatory.
### Title Heading level three. The space after the # is mandatory.
#### Title Heading level four. The space after the # is mandatory.
_text_ The text is rendered as emphasised text (italicised).
**text** The text is rendered as strongly emphasised text (bold).
~~text~~ Strikethrough text.
% text... A comment. The text is not exported by default, seen in viewer, or counted towards word counts.
% Synopsis: text... A synopsis comment. Shows up in the Synopsis column of the Outline View, but is otherwise treated as a comment.
@keyword: value A keyword argument followed by a value, or a comma separated list of values.

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.

The editor and viewer also supports markdown standard hard line breaks, and preserves non-breaking spaces. A hard line break is achieved by leaving two or more spaces at the end of the line. Alternatively, the user can press Ctrl-K, Return to insert this. A non-breaking space is inserted with Ctrl-K, Space.

Thin spaces are also supported, and can be inserted with Ctrl-K, Shift-Space, and the non-breaking version of it with Ctrl-K, Ctrl-Space.

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 Outline View is available as the second tab on the right hand side of the main window marked “Outline”. The Outline View 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.

Various meta data and information extracted from tags can be displayed in columns in the Outline View. To turn on or off specific columns, right click the header and select the columns you want to show. The order of the columns can be rearranged by dragging them to a different position.


The “Title” columns cannot be disabled or moved.

The information viewed in teh Outline View is based on the Project 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.

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. You may want to disable this feature if your project is very large,

Synopsis Feature

The “Synopsis” column of the Outline View takes its information from a specially formatted comment. In order to flag a comment as a Synopsis, add the word “Synopsis:” as the first word of the comment. The “:” is required, and “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, the last one will be used.

Keyboard Shortcuts

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

Keyboard Shortcuts
Shortcut Description
Alt-1 Switch focus to tree view pane.
Alt-2 Switch focus to document editor pane.
Alt-3 Switch focus to document viewer pane.
Ctrl-. Correct word under cursor.
Ctrl-, Open the Preferences dialog.
Ctrl-/ Change block format to comment.
Ctrl-- Strikethrough selected text, or word under cursor.
Ctrl-0 Remove block formatting for block under cursor.
Ctrl-1 Change block format to header level 1.
Ctrl-2 Change block format to header level 2.
Ctrl-3 Change block format to header level 3.
Ctrl-4 Change block format to header level 4.
Ctrl-A Select all text in document.
Ctrl-B Format selected text, or word under cursor, with strong emphasis (bold).
Ctrl-C Copy selected text to clipboard.
Ctrl-D Wrap selected text, or word under cursor, in double quotes.
Ctrl-E If in tree view, edit a document or folder settings. (Same as F2)
Ctrl-F Open the search bar and search for selected word, if any is selected.
Ctrl-G Find next occurrence of word in current document. (Same as F3)
Ctrl-H Open the search and replace bar and search for selected word, if any is selected. (On Mac, this is Cmd-=)
Ctrl-I Format selected text, or word under cursor, with emphasis (italic).
Ctrl-N Create new document.
Ctrl-O Open selected document.
Ctrl-Q Exit novelWriter.
Ctrl-R If in tree view, open a document for viewing. If editor pane has focus, open current document for viewing.
Ctrl-S Save the current document in the editor.
Ctrl-V Paste text from clipboard to cursor position.
Ctrl-W Close the current document in the editor.
Ctrl-X Cut selected text to clipboard.
Ctrl-Y Redo latest undo.
Ctrl-Z Undo latest changes.
Ctrl-F7 Toggle spell checking.
Ctrl-F10 Toggle automatic updating of project outline.
Ctrl-Del If in tree view, move a document to trash, or delete a folder.
Ctrl-Enter Open the tag or reference under the cursor in the view panel.
Ctrl-Shift-, Open the Project Settings dialog.
Ctrl-Shift-/ Remove block formatting for block under cursor.
Ctrl-Shift-1 Replace occurrence of word in current document, and search for next occurrence.
Ctrl-Shift-A Select all text in current paragraph.
Ctrl-Shift-B Format selected text, or word under cursor, with very strong emphasis (bold and italic).
Ctrl-Shift-D Wrap selected text, or word under cursor, in single quotes.
Ctrl-Shift-G Find previous occurrence of word in current document. (Same as Shift-F3
Ctrl-Shift-I Import text to the current document from a text file.
Ctrl-Shift-N Create new folder.
Ctrl-Shift-O Open a project.
Ctrl-Shift-R Close the document view pane.
Ctrl-Shift-S Save the current project.
Ctrl-Shift-W Close the current project.
Ctrl-Shift-Up Move item one step up in the tree view.
Ctrl-Shift-Down Move item one step down in the tree view.
F1 Open documentation. This just tries to send the documentation URL ti your browser.
F2 If in tree view, edit a document or folder settings. (Same as Ctrl-E)
F3 Find next occurrence of word in current document. (Same as Ctrl-G)
F5 Open the Build Novel Project dialog.
F6 Open the Writing Statistics dialog.
F7 Re-run spell checker.
F8 Activate Focus Mode, hiding project tree and view panel.
F9 Re-build project index.
F10 Re-build project outline.
F11 Activate full screen mode.
Shift-F3 Find previous occurrence of word in current document. (Same as Ctrl-Shift-G
Enter If in tree view, open a document for editing.


On macOS, replace Ctrl with Cmd.

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

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