Tag Archives: forms

IT tips #24: How to make time-saving templates in Word


A real template in Word is a thing of beauty and magic that can be used to save you a lot of time and make your computer do what it does best:  quickly and painlessly automate repetitive tasks.  I say real templates, because a lot of people use the word ‘template’ to mean nothing more than a Word document that just provides an example of what a document should look like. A real template ends in the file extension .dot, and when you click on it, will automatically create a new blank document based on the template.  so if someone says ‘I’m attaching a template’ and the file ends in .doc, it’s not a template. Here’s how to do it properly:

  1. Think of a document type that has that you use a lot, like a letter or invoice
  2. Start a new document in Word.
  3. Spend time creating all the fancy elements that are particular to you such as
    – Your name and address and other contact details
    – An automated field for today’s date (see instructions below)
    – Page numbers, footers, headers
    – A scan of your signature, with your name and title underneath it
    – Bank details (if it’s an invoice)
  4.  Now go to the file menu, and select ‘Save As’
  5. From the dialog box that appears, look down to the ‘Format’ field, and change the Format to one of the Template (.dot) options.  Choose Word 97-2004 Template if you’re sending it to someone else (just to be safe), Word Template (.dotx) if it’s only you that’s going to be using it.
  6. Give the template a memorable and useful name, and press OK to save the document (which is now not strictly a document anymore, but a template)

To use the template (these instructions are for Word for Mac 2008 – in Word for Windows, you go to File>New and then select ‘from template’ ).

1. Go to the File>Project Gallery

2. From the menu that appears, select ‘My Templates’ and the template you created will be there.

3. Click on the template. A new blank document will be created with all the features that you specified. If you inserted an automatic date field, today’s date will be inserted (see instructions below).

4. Save this new document as something meaningful on your computer.


How to insert the date automatically every time you create a new document based on a template

1. Go to the Insert menu, and select Insert>Field 

2. Select ‘Date and Time’ and use the ‘Create Date’ option

3. Press’ Options’ and select the format that the date should have, and remember to press ‘Add to field’ and ‘OK’ afterwards

  • Templates can be very complex things: for example, I’ve got one that I use for creating units in module study guides that have to have a cover page with the company logo on, page numbering, particular heading and text styles, and so on. Clicking on ‘Template’ creates a whole new document with a cover page including all the graphics.
  • Used in conjunction with forms (see earlier post on forms), templates can be doubly powerful: you could for example create an invoice template with form  fields for all the variable data like the name of the job and the unit price and so on.
  • Another way to use templates is to drag a shortcut to the template to your desktop. That way, you click on the template shortcut and kerplang! Word starts up automatically with a shiny new document ready for you to type into. To do this, you need to know where the template it stored (see below).
  • If you need to edit the template, you need to know where templates are stored on your computer. Once you know, you then select File>Open and locate the template in question to edit it
  • To find out where your computer stores templates, on a Mac go to Preferences pane in Word and select File locations. (it’s under Tools>Options on a PC) Make a note of where the  ‘templates’ are stored. You can press ‘modify’ to put them somewhere else. Frankly, I wouldn’t though. 




IT tips #13: Make a form in Word that you can *really* fill in


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.