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One of the annoyances of 21st century life is when you get sent what is called a ‘form’ to be filled in ‘electronically’ which is in fact just a Word document with some lines in it to mark where you would write on the form if you were filling it in by hand (e.g. Name ___________). When you go to type in it, the lines move, and you have to either give up or delete the lines.  Or there’s a tick box, but you can’t put an X in it. Aargh indeed.

MS Word is actually very good at making graceful, useable forms once you know how. Here’s a quick guide to the basics:

  1. Start a new document in Word.
  2. When you get to the point where the recipient has to fill something in, go to View>Toolbars>Forms
  3. You’ll see this:
  4.  Place the cursor where you want the recipient to write something, then from the forms toolbar (see above), select the kind of field that you want – text field, check-box or drop-down menu (there are other options, but the first three buttons are the ones you’ll use most often)
  5. A greyed-out box will appear wherever you’ve placed one of these fields. Don’t worry that it looks small – it will expand as the user fills them in.
  6. When you’ve finished making the form – and this is the most important part – press the ‘padlock’ sign at the end of the forms toolbar (‘Protect form’)
  7. Now go back to view>toolbars> and deselect ‘forms’.
  8. Save the form with a meaningful name, and send it to the people who should fill it in. It’s a good idea to tell them to put their name or some identifier in the filename when they’ve finished, otherwise you’ll get a whole load of forms back with the same filename.

How it works

Because you’ve pressed the ‘protect form’ (padlock) button, when the recipient opens the form, they will only have the option to fill in the grey fields, which will expand automatically to fit the text that they write, leaving the rest of the form intact. And because you’ve removed the ‘forms’ toolbar, they can’t unlock the form to edit the bits that are nothing to do with them. As with an online form, they can use the TAB key to move between fields.

If you want to make changes to the form, you have to turn the ‘Forms’ toolbar back on and unprotect the form (by clicking the padlock again),  and then re-protect it and remove the forms toolbar again before you save your changes.

Yes, there’s a risk that a savvy form-filler will know how to turn on the forms toolbar and wreak havoc with the form, but the chances are that if they know how to do this, they’ll be a sane human being that just wants to fill in the form for you, and won’t use their powers inappropriately.


4 thought on “IT tips #13: Make a form in Word that you can *really* fill in”
  1. I have been enjoying these posts and they are very USEFUL. How can I make sure that I can refer to them in the future. I’m rubbish at remembering things like this in my head and always have to look them up.

  2. In my Word program I don’t see “forms” under view>toolbar. I can’t find “forms” anywhere. Suggestions? I’m using Microsoft Word for Mac 2011, version 14.3.9 if that makes a difference.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist