Many people use Microsoft Word as a glorified typewriter. That is, they produce “one-off” documents. These are unique creations, such as a personal letter, a report, or a chapter in a policy manual, intended for printing and sending to someone. The original file may be saved on the author’s hard drive, but it is unlikely ever to be used again.
At the same time, we use many paper forms in our everyday lives. Forms have parts that don’t change, and parts that are filled in with different information every time they are used. Untold millions of paper forms are printed and stored for use. They are frequently disposed of — unused — when the procedure they support changes. As people have so often said, there must be a better way to use trees.
Word Forms: A Better Way
Word has features that make it possible and easy to create and use electronic forms instead of paper ones. Using these features, Word can generate a form as it is needed, the user can fill it out, and exactly as many copies of the completed form can be printed as required. The electronic form can also be sent as an email attachment or posted to a Web site. As an electronic form, a Word document can provide its data to other applications so that people never have to handle an actual paper form.
Word forms can also save people time. For example, a Word document can automatically fill in the date. Special fields can contain drop-down lists of frequently used information so the person completing the form can point and click instead of typing. Repetitive entries can be automated. Forms can even do simple math, such as extending and totaling prices on an order form.
Word forms are based on two concepts: fields and templates.
A field is a hidden code that you type into a document or add by using the Insert menu. Normally you only see the results of fields, such as dates, text, or other data. Field codes are similar to the functions that you may be familiar with in Microsoft Excel. For example, the field code TIME \@ “MMMM d, yyyy” inserts the current date into the document, in “month day, year” format and with the correct spacing, punctuation, and capitalization. Word 2000 offers 72 different field code types. Using them, you can build tables of contents, mailing lists, form letters, billing forms and invoices, and many other automated documents.
A template is a document master that contains formatting information that you use regularly. It can also contain fields. If you have used Word’s letter templates or Word’s resume template, you are already familiar with some of the capabilities of templates.
Creating a Form
Creating a form is a simple three-step process. Begin by creating a template, enter the fields you need, and set up the formatting so the form has the appearance you want. You then protect the document so that none of the information outside of the fields can be changed. Finish by saving the document as a template.
To use the form, you choose File, New, and select it from Word’s New dialog box, where it will appear. The form will open in Word so that you can fill in the information.
In the remainder of this article, we will build a simple form that can serve as an order verification letter (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: A simple form
This form will automatically insert the date, provide drop-down choices and text boxes for the customer information, and has an area for indicating items, quantities, and prices. In a later article, you will learn how to make the form do the math to extend and total prices.
Begin by selecting File, New to open the New dialog box (see Figure 2). Indicate that you are creating a Template, and click OK.
Figure 2: The New dialog box
Type in the basic memo information that will not change: the letterhead and the boilerplate text (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: The letterhead and the boilerplate text
Place the cursor in the memo at the point where you want the date to appear. Choose Insert, Field from the menu bar. The Field dialog box opens (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: The Field dialog box
On the left side, choose the Date and Time Category, and on the right choose Date from the Field names. Click OK and the current date field is inserted into the document. This field will update each time the form is used to open a new form.
Next, we are going to insert a drop-down list into the form so that the user can pick the correct title (Mr., Ms., Rev., Dr., and so on) for the customer to whom the memo will be sent. Doing this requires a special tool, the Forms toolbar.
To open the Forms toolbar, choose View, Toolbars from the menu bar. The extended menu of available toolbars opens, and you can click to pick the Forms toolbar (see Figure 5).
Figure 5: Choosing the Forms toolbar
The Forms toolbar opens (see Figure 6). The first three buttons on the toolbar enable you to insert a Text Form Field, a Check Box Form Field, or a Drop-Down Form Field.
Figure 6: The Forms toolbar
Choose the third button and a gray box appears to the left of the cursor. This is where the drop-down list will appear, but we need to create the list. Click inside the gray box, and then choose the fourth button on the Forms toolbar. This is the Form Field Options button.
The Drop-Down Form Field Options dialog box opens. In the Drop-down items text box, type one of the titles you want to have in the drop-down list, and then click the Add button. Continue to do this until you have added all the choices you think will be required (see Figure 7).
Figure 7: The Drop-Down Form Field Options dialog box
You can also put help text in the status bar or in a dialog box that will pop up when the F1 key is pressed while the list is selected. To do this, choose the Add Help Text… button. The Form Field Help Text dialog box will appear and you can add the text (see Figure 8).
Figure 8: The Form Field Help Text dialog box
The easy part comes next. Use the Forms toolbar to add text form fields (first button) where you can enter the customer’s name and contact information. In a later article, you will learn how to create a macro, or small program, that will automatically enter the customer’s name in the salutation once it is placed in the address area at the top of the letter.
The Text Form Field Options are different (see Figure 9). Instead of presenting a blank box to the user, you can place default text in the field to indicate what goes there. You can also have the text box automatically format whatever you enter — it could appear as ALL CAPS, for example.
Figure 9: The Text Form Field Options dialog box
The next task is to set up the table at the bottom of the form so that the customer’s order can be summarized. A professional appearance is important, and Word makes this relatively easy to achieve.
Begin by entering all the tabular information using only tabs to lay it out (see Figure 10). The paragraph marks have been made visible in the figure so you can more easily see how this is done.
Figure 10: Entering the information using only tabs
Before inserting the fields for the check boxes and the quantities, we are going to structure the tabular area of the form a bit, to make it look better. Highlight the entire tabular area, from the first tab in the first line of the table heading all the way to the paragraph mark at the end of the last line. Then click on the Insert Table icon on the Forms toolbar (sixth button from the left).
This puts all of the elements into a neat table. Click on the “checkbox” symbols in the left column and replace them with check box form fields from the Forms toolbar. Click to the left of the quantity abbreviations in the third column and insert text form fields in the same way. Notice how the text form field sizes itself exactly to fit the table cell — this is a key advantage of inserting a table when creating a tabular form like this. Add a space between each text form field and its abbreviation. Center the column headings to clean things up a bit more (see Figure 11).
Figure 11: Cleaning up the table
The tabular area is not quite centered under the heading (Summary of Order), although the heading is centered on the page. The best way to align things is to put the tabular information into a frame, and then move the frame to a position where it is centered on the heading.
Begin by selecting the table. Then on the Forms toolbar, choose the Insert Frame icon (seventh from the left). A frame appears around the table, and you can then click and drag the table into a more visually pleasing position (see Figure 12). It is easier to do this if you turn off the paragraph marks again so they don’t distract you.
Figure 12: Using a frame to move the table into position
At this point, your form is completed. Choose the Protect Form icon (see Figure 13) from the Forms toolbar and save the Form. The next time you choose File, New you will see the new form on the General tab of the New dialog box.
Figure 13: The Protect Form icon
Good luck, and go save those trees!