Building the Skeleton of Your Form

Whether you ultimately want your forms to be used as hard copy or an online format, the first step is the same: creating a template containing the "shell" of the form. The shell is the text, layout, and formatting elements that remain constant whenever the form is used. To create a template from scratch, open a new blank document, click Save, choose Document Template from the Save as Type drop-down box, and click Save.


If you originally created a printed form in Word and you now want to turn it into an electronic form that can be filled out from within Word, open the original Word file and resave it as a template.

After you create your template, you must create a framework for your form. You can use all Word's editing, formatting, and drawing tools, just as if you were creating any other kind of document. Most forms make heavy use of the following features:

  • Tables (see Chapter 12, "Structuring and Organizing Information with Tables")

  • Text boxes (see Chapter 16, "Word Desktop Publishing")

  • Borders and shading (see Chapter 5, "Controlling Page Features")

Leave empty spaces (or placeholder characters such as &&&&) for the areas of the form you want users to fill in. Later, you'll learn how to use form fields that transform those empty spaces with interactivity and automation, enabling users to enter information more quickly and accurately. Figure 28.1 shows the skeleton of a form with all structure, text, and graphics in place.

Figure 28.1. The skeleton of a form, awaiting the use of form fields.



Your form template should also contain any macros and AutoText entries you can create to streamline filling out the forms later.


If you can't edit a form one of your colleagues has created, see "What to Do If Word Won't Allow You to Edit an Existing Form," in the "Troubleshooting" section of this chapter.

After you've built the skeleton for your form, be sure to save it as a template under a new name, preferably a descriptive one. If your organization numbers its forms, you might include the new form number in the name.

By default, Word saves all templates in the Templates folder; saving your file here makes it appear in the General tab of the New dialog box. You can also save it in any of the Templates subfolders, such as Letters & Faxes, Memos, Publications, and so on, which correspond to the other tabs of the New dialog box.

To enable users to access the form easily across a network, store it in a location to which they have access, such as the Workgroup Templates folder set up on your network. Of course, no matter how you choose to distribute your electronic forms, you should password-protect them so that they cannot be changed without authorization.

For more information on placing templates in a folder shared by an entire workgroup, see "Using Workgroup Templates," p. 377.


If you have a form that you want everyone to fill in, you can send the template as an email attachment, by choosing File, Send To, Mail Recipient (as Attachment). (Remember to add instructions on what to do with the form.)

Outlook 2003 has its own form-generating capability, and if you need strong support for messaging and workflow?especially if your organization also uses Microsoft Exchange?consider building the form with Outlook instead of Word 2003.

If you want to edit the form's structure after completing it, you must open the template itself, not a document created from the template. To make sure that you're doing so, in the Open dialog box change the Files of Type to Document Templates to display Word templates instead of Word documents.

For more information about working with templates, see Chapter 11, "Templates, Wizards, and Add-Ins," p. 355.

    Part I: Word Basics: Get Productive Fast
    Part II: Building Slicker Documents Faster
    Part III: The Visual Word: Making Documents Look Great
    Part IV: Industrial-Strength Document Production Techniques
    Part VI: The Corporate Word