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 Project 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 document, or the sum of words of 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 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.
The fourth column shows various meta data flags for the item. The first is an icon indicating the importance or status of the document. 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 characters after the dot indicate the document layout type (see Project Roots).

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.

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 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 in 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 rearranging the order of your documents within each root folder, and has only limited support for moving documents elsewhere in the project tree. 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 and 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 simplified markdown format. The format is described in the Markdown Format section below. The editor has a maximise button (toggles the 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. 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 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 from the Tools menu. 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 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 bar that can be activated with CtrlF for search mode or CtrlH for search/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 word.

There are a number of settings for the search bar 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.


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.

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 documents of layout Note, they are free to be used as you see fit, but for all other 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 document 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’s novel title.
## Title
Heading level two. If the document is a novel file, the header level indicates the start of a new chapter. Chapter numbers can be inserted automatically when exporting the manuscript.
### Title
Heading level three. If the document is a novel file, the header level indicates the start of a new scene. Scene numbers or scene separators can be inserted automatically when exporting the manuscript, so you can use the title field as a working title for your scenes if you wish.
#### Title
Heading level four. If the document is a novel file, the header level indicates the start of a new section. Section titles can be replaced by separators or removed when exporting the manuscript, so you can use the title field as a working title for your sections if you wish.


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


If you do use the automatic numbering feature for exports, you can tell the export tool to skip assigning a number to a specific chapter by adding a * as the first character of the title itself. See Unnumbered Chapter Headings for more details.

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 also supports __ for strong and * for 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, the following rules apply:

  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.
  4. Text emphasis does not span past line breaks. If you need to add emphasis to multiple lines or paragraphs, you must apply it to each of them in turn.

Comments and Synopsis

In addition to these standard markdown features, novelWriter also allows for comments in documents. The text of a comment is ignored by the word counter. The text can also be filtered out when exporting or viewing the document.

If the first word of a comment is Synopsis: (with the colon included), the comment is treated specially and will show up in the Project Outline View in a dedicated column. 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.

% text...
This is a comment. The text is not exported by default (this can be overridden), seen in the document viewer, or counted towards word counts.
% Synopsis: text...
This is a synopsis comment. It is generally treated in the same way as a regular comment, except that it is also 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.


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

Tags and References

The document editor supports a minimal set of keywords used for setting tags, and making references between documents. 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. They can also be inserted at the cursor position in the editor via the Insert menu.

Additional Markdown and Non-Standard Features

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

  • A hard line break can be achieved by leaving two or more spaces at the end of the line. This is standard markdown syntax. Alternatively, the user can press CtrlK, Return to insert this type of line break.
  • A non-breaking space can be 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.


Non-breaking spaces are the correct type of space to separate a number from its unit. Generally, it prevents the line wrapping algorithms from adding line breaks where it shouldn’t.

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.

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.
Alt4 Switch focus to outline view.
AltLeft Move backward in the view history of the document viewer.
AltRight Move forward in the view history of the document viewer.
Ctrl. Open menu to correct word under cursor.
Ctrl, Open the Preferences dialog.
Ctrl/ Change block format to comment.
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 Strikethrough selected text, or word under cursor.
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).
CtrlK Activate the insert commands. The commands are listed in Insert Shortcuts.
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.
CtrlUp Move item one step up in the project tree.
CtrlDown Move item one step down in the project tree.
CtrlDel Delete next word in editor.
CtrlBackspace Delete previous word in editor.
Ctrl' Wrap selected text, or word under cursor, in single quotes.
Ctrl" Wrap selected text, or word under cursor, in double quotes.
CtrlRetrun 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.
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.
CtrlShiftZ Undo move of project tree item.
CtrlShiftDel If in the project tree, move a document to trash, or delete a folder.
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.)
ShiftF6 Open the Project Details dialog.
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 CtrlK, followed by a key or key combination for the inserted content.

Keyboard Shortcuts
Shortcut Description
CtrlK, Insert a short dash (en dash).
CtrlK, _ Insert a long dash (em dash).
CtrlK, Ctrl_ Insert a horizontal bar (quotation dash).
CtrlK, ~ Insert a figure dash (same width as a number).
CtrlK, 1 Insert a left single quote.
CtrlK, 2 Insert a right single quote.
CtrlK, 3 Insert a left double quote.
CtrlK, 4 Insert a right double quote.
CtrlK, ' Insert a modifier apostrophe.
CtrlK, . Insert an ellipsis.
CtrlK, Ctrl' Insert a prime.
CtrlK, Ctrl" Insert a double prime.
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.
CtrlK, * Insert a list bullet.
CtrlK, Ctrl Insert a hyphen bullet (alternative bullet).
CtrlK, Ctrl* Insert a flower mark (alternative bullet).
CtrlK, % Insert a per mille symbol.
CtrlK, CtrlO Insert a degree symbol.
CtrlK, CtrlX Insert a times sign.
CtrlK, CtrlD Insert a division sign.
CtrlK, G Insert a @tag keyword.
CtrlK, V Insert a @pov keyword.
CtrlK, F Insert a @focus keyword.
CtrlK, C Insert a @char keyword.
CtrlK, P Insert a @plot keyword.
CtrlK, T Insert a @time keyword.
CtrlK, L Insert a @location keyword.
CtrlK, O Insert an @object keyword.
CtrlK, E Insert an @entity keyword.
CtrlK, X Insert a @custom keyword.