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Use Word to build better templates and forms

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When creating a form letter or other document template, the field code feature in Word versions 97 and higher can come in handy. With dozens of field codes available, you can manage everything from inserting information that is automatically updated to creating drop-down lists that allow users to choose which information to insert.

The field options range from addresses to user information. Following are two examples of how to use them, one basic and one advanced.

Start at the Insert menu and go to the "Field ..." option. (Word 2002 consolidates the information in the Field dialog box.)

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Basic information model

In the Field dialog box, choose the Date and Time category. From there, you can add a field for the current date, the date a document was created, the current time or other options.

You also can choose the style in which the information is presented, from month and year down to hour, minute and second.

To update the information when you are in the document, put your cursor on the field. Right-click, and choose the Update Field option.

Advanced option

With the AUTOTEXTLIST field, you can create a drop-down list of entries for users to insert. For example, you can list all your organization's departments, and the person using the document can choose the appropriate one. Here's how:

Create the list. Start by typing your options, such as the list of departments. Highlight them, and from the Format menu, choose the Styles box. Click New Style, and give it a name (example: DepartmentsList), ensuring that the style formatting is correct.

Create entries. Next, create AutoText entries for each item. (Word sorts these items by paragraph style when displaying them, and you'll want to display only the AutoText entries based on your newly named style with this field code.)

Highlight each item individually, being careful not to include the paragraph mark after it. To simplify creating an AutoText entry, hit ALT F3 and name it. After completing AutoText entries for each item, you can delete the list of items.

Fill in the code. Now it's time to go to Insert, Field, and choose the Field Name AUTOTEXTLIST. When you hit the Field Codes button, you'll see a box that starts with AUTOTEXTLIST and a sample below of how you need to complete the box.

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Sample:

AUTOTEXTLIST "Literal Text" \s "Stylename" \t "Tip text"

"Literal Text" is what will appear in your document as the field, without the quotation marks. So, your document might say: Department.

The "Stylename" is the style you created, and the "Tip text" is what will appear when the document user passes the cursor over that field.

So, you might complete the field code this way for our example:

AUTOTEXTLIST "Department" \s "DepartmentsList" \t "Right click to choose one"

When a user comes to that field code in the document and uses the right mouse click, the departments' list appears, providing a choice of options. Now you're set, and so is every user.

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