How to create smart Microsoft Word templates

Learn how to make interactive document templates using Word's Content Controls.

With interactive documents, you can choose from a range of predefined options for data, instead of typing the data from scratch each time. If you write lots of letters to the same few correspondents, generate electronic data-entry forms, produce documents with boilerplate language, or find yourself typing the same phrases over and over, wouldn't it be convenient if your documents were already partially formatted and allowed you to make selections from drop-down menus instead of copying and pasting from documents you created earlier? I'll show you how to use the Content Control tools within Microsoft Word to create templates that you can use every day.

How to Find Word's Content Controls

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Content Controls let you add interactive elements to your Word documents, but you might not even know they exist because they're accessible only from the Developer tab in Word's Ribbon, and that tab is disabled by default. To enable it in Word 2010, choose File > Options > Customize Ribbon. In the right-hand panel, locate and click the Developer checkbox and click OK. In Word 2007, choose File > Word Options and then click the Show Developer Tab in the Ribbon checkbox (from the Popular set of options) and click OK. Now select the Developer tab, locate the Controls group, and click Design Mode. You're ready to set up your controls.

Select a Date Using the Date Picker Control

Hover your mouse over the icons in the Controls group, and a label will pop up identifying each control. The Date Picker Content Control creates a placeholder that you can use to choose a date from a calendar.

Click the icon to add this element to your document. Turn off Design Mode, and you'll see a box labeled 'Click here to enter a date.' The calendar will appear when you click the down arrow on the control. Pick a date, and that date will appear automatically in the document.

The Date Picker has some handy settings you can configure. To see these, click Design Mode once again. Click the Date Picker control and then click the Properties button (it's in the Controls segment of the Ribbon). Use the Properties dialog box to format the control (for instance, to have the month spelled out instead of being represented numerically). You can also use Properties to lock the content control so that it can't be deleted, or you can add a title to the control telling the user about its purpose ("Select a date for a meeting," for example).

Finally, you can format the control with a Word style so that the date looks the way you want it to. If you use styles, and the style set changes, the date's text formatting will automatically change to match the new style set.

Add a Content Control to Manage Text Entry

The Plain Text Content Control creates a designated place for someone to enter text into a document. You can preformat the text in this control using a defined style, so that any text the user enters there will appear a certain way. You can also elect to permit or disallow carriage returns. On top of that, you can leave this control as is, lock it so that it cannot be deleted, or set it so that it automatically disappears once its contents have been edited. In the last mode, the content control will appear in the document until someone has typed text in it; as soon as they do, the content control will vanish, but the text typed into it will remain.

Select an Item From a List of Options

With some documents, you'll want to pick from a limited number of options presented in a list. In these cases, creating a template with the Drop-Down List Content Control or the Combo Box Content Control is the way to go.

Click the Drop-Down List Content Control to add it to the document. For this control, you can not only type a title and use a style to format its contents, but also format it so that it cannot be deleted. To prepopulate the control with a set of choices, select the control and then click Properties. Now click Add in the Properties dialog box, and type an entry for the list (for this example, leave the display name and the value the same). Repeat this step with each entry for the list, and click OK when you're finished.

When you click Design Mode and return to the document, you'll see the words 'Choose an item' in gray. Click that text, and a drop-down box will appear with the words in your list. Click one of these items, and the word will appear in the document.

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