It isn’t being bound to a file item in the sense you’re thinking of it – you’re misunderstand what is happening here.
What you have done in your Word outline in effect is to have a series of 'unit’s which consist of headings with associated text, and that’s all. You can move them up and down and left and right in your outline, and you can collapse or expand them to hide or show the text but it will never be any more than a list of headings and associated text.
That’s an outline at its most basic — useful, but it’s very limited compared to Scrivener’s outline capabilities.
In Scrivener, each of those ‘units’ (and I mean every single one of them) can:
- contain a short synopsis (think of it as the front of an index card with a short description of the unit
- contain the full text of the unit as it will be eventually be printed
- contain unlimited notes on the unit
- contain metadata about the unit – e.g. its status (‘First draft’, ‘final draft’), a coloured label (‘Theme A’, ‘Theme B’), the target word count and progress towards that word count, an unlimited number of arbitrary tags – and you can create any number of additional custom metadata fields yourself
- contain viewable references to internal and external documents
- contain snapshots of previous versions of the unit which can be compared and/or rolled back
- contain an image associated with the unit
- and… well you get the point.
Each of those ‘units’ is an item in the Binder (the Explorer-like panel on the left). You can create the units in any order and move them up and down the structure, just as you would in Word. The difference is that in Scrivener, all the associated elements I’ve listed above move with it, instantly.
And you don’t have to create a new file to get a new unit – all you do is File > New or ctl-N and a new unit is created in the Binder. Think of it as simply creating a new heading in Word - all it’s doing is creating a new logical unit.
What’s more you can select multiple units in the the Binder and view all the text in one ‘virtual document’ (called a Scrivening). With a single toggle you can see one unit, multiple units or the whole document and edit in any of those states.
The selection doesn’t have to be contiguous – you could for example, do a search for every section of your thesis which mentions Descartes and view and edit all those units together without any of the intervening sections getting in the way. You can’t do that in Word.
I’ve been using the word ‘unit’ so far because I wanted to emphasise that they’re all just elements in your overall project, not something you have to manually save to the file system. In fact, Scrivener calls the units ‘Documents’ — what you think of as the Word ‘document’ (the final completed output) is called a Project in Scrivener.
You can make the documents contain as much or as little of your project as you want. Say your essay has Parts, and Sections: one way would be to create a document for each subsection, nested in the Binder to reflect the hierarchy. Give each section a short synopsis outlining its purpose, then view the whole structure as a series of index cards, which you can move around until you’re happy with the structure, even as you write the actual content by changing the view of the section to the Editor. If you later decide you want to split some of the sections up, just create new documents in the binder to reflect the new sections or subsections, then move them around.
Scrivener allows you to look at these Documents (units) in a number of ways beyond the toggling between individual / multiple text that I’ve just described:
you can see each group of documents (units) as index cards (the corkboard) showing just the synopsis – this is really useful for rearranging the documents easily
you can see each group of documents in a spreadsheet like outline view – complete with a user definable choice of metadata in columns
Eventually, when you’ve got all the documents in the right order, with the right content, you’ll compile it to your chosen format (which could be an ebook, a manuscript for submission, a Word document, a Latex file, a multimarkdown file and so) and you won’t have to change the structure and contents at all. You just choose a different format.
I’ve not covered everything Scrivener can do, but I hope this has been enough to convince you that Word’s concept of an outliner is very limited compared to Scrivener’s.
There are a number of concepts which provide the power behind Scrivener, without which it can be harder to get the benefit. It’s really worth doing the Interactive Tutorial which you can find in the Help menu. It will take no more than an hour or two to read through – at the end of it, you’ll see why so many writers view Word as a very poor substitute for creating a document in comparison.
Hope this helps.