Understanding the Workflow Associated with Building and Distributing Word Forms

Before you can begin building and using Word electronic forms, it helps to understand the workflow associated with them. In general, you should follow these steps in the order presented:

  1. Plan your form. Understand its goals and the information it must elicit.

  2. Build a skeleton of your form. Add all the text and images that won't change when a user fills out the form. Leave space for the form's interactive elements?the areas users will fill out. (At this stage, you might want to do preliminary testing of your form with colleagues who will ultimately be working with it.)

  3. Add interactivity with form fields. In the spaces you've left for them, add form fields that provide your form's interactivity. These include text form fields that allow users to type text such as names and addresses, check box form fields, and drop-down form fields that allow users to choose from a list of options.

  4. Protect your form. This prevents changes to its structure and functionality. After you've protected a form, users can enter information only in the areas you've provided for them.

  5. Distribute your form. There are several options for doing this. For example, you can save your form as a template, and store it in the network location you use for global templates. Users can then create new copies of the form whenever needed, by choosing the form from the File, New dialog box. Alternatively, you can provide the form as a Word document, stored on an intranet or sent by email to users when they request it.

Planning Your Form

Careful planning can make the difference between an incomprehensible form that users fill out improperly (or not at all) and a clear, usable form that delivers the information you need rapidly and effectively. Here are some ideas for building effective, usable forms.

  • Be clear about your goals. As mentioned previously, make sure you understand exactly what your form is intended to accomplish, and what information it must request in order to accomplish its goals.

  • Organize the required information logically. For example, place all contact details (name, address, phone, email) in one area; place all financial details in another. Separate fields with headings that are as clear and self-explanatory as possible. Avoid redundancy: The user should never have to fill in the same information twice.

  • Think about how users will work with your form. For example, a form containing credit-card information will typically allow the user to specify which type of credit card is to be used (MasterCard, Visa); then the credit-card number; and only then the expiration date.

  • Emphasize usability and readability. Use readable typefaces, avoid print that's too small, avoid "ALL CAPS" text, and, if you use color, be sure to use high-contrast colors.

  • Leave sufficient space for user information. This is doubly important if you're creating a printed form that will be filled in by hand.

  • Use conventions your users will expect. For example, if you want users of an electronic form to select only one item from a list, use a drop-down box, not a series of check boxes that allow them to (incorrectly) select multiple items.

  • Help users avoid errors up front. For example, if a form requires inputs to be in the form of dollars and cents, present a default setting in that format, use Word's tools for enforcing inputs?and give users help that explains specifically what you're looking for.

  • Test! Try out the form with real live users?and listen to what they tell you!

    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