Software

Seven tips to tap into Word's AutoText power

Word's AutoText feature is like AutoCorrect on steroids. Once you master a few tricks and shortcuts, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/Jezperklauzen

Word's AutoText feature lets you store text and graphics to insert later. Any content you include regularly is an AutoText candidate. Once you create the entry, you can insert the entire element instead of retyping it. AutoText is similar to AutoCorrect, which replaces commonly misspelled words automatically. But AutoText goes beyond the AutoCorrect feature by storing formatting, line breaks, and even graphics. It's AutoCorrect, but more.

Although AutoText can make you more productive, many users don't know about it. In this article, I'll show you how to create and insert an AutoText entry. Then, I'll show you several ways to use this feature that you might not think of yourself. I'm using Office 2016 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but these tips will work with Word 2003 and later. You can try out these tricks using any Word file so there's no downloadable example file.

The basics

AutoText entries are easy to create and insert and that's what you'll learn how to do first. If you already know how to do this, skip to the next section.

  1. Creating an AutoText entry is simple:
  2. Type the word, phrase, or paragraph, or insert a graphic, and select it.
  3. Press [Alt]+[F3] to open the Create New Building Block dialog box. AutoText is listed in the Quick Parts dropdown, which is in the Text group on the Insert tab. In Word 2003, choose AutoFormat from the Format menu. Click Options and then click the AutoText tab.
  4. Enter a name for the AutoText entry (Figure A); short but meaningful is best. Word will default to the text, but you can change it. I changed it from TechRepublic to TRNameLogo; that's not a lot shorter, but it is more meaningful. You want a name that you can easily remember.
  5. Click OK.

Figure A

Figure A

You'll use this name to recall the AutoText entry.

Word saves AutoText entries in the Normal.dotm (.dot) template. If you work with a different template, be sure to change that when creating entries by changing the Saved In setting. AutoText entries are available to anyone using the specified template or a document based on that template. For that reason, AutoText isn't a good option for storing confidential information if you intend to share documents in electronic form.

Using a short, unique name is important because you use the entry's name to insert the content as follows (bypassing the menu route):

  1. Position the insertion point where you want to insert the entry.
  2. Type the entry's name (Figure B).
  3. Press [F3] and Word will insert the entry, as you can see in Figure C.

Figure B

Figure B

Type the AutoText entry's name.

Figure C

Figure C

Word replaces the name text with the complete entry.

Now that you know the how-to basics, let's look at some ways to work more efficiently with these entries.

Also see: Easy AutoText

1: Use the ribbon

It's difficult to remember the names if you have lots of entries. When you can't remember an entry's name, use the menu to insert an AutoText entry as follows:

  1. Position the cursor where you want to insert the text.
  2. Click the Insert tab.
  3. Click Quick Parts in the Text group and choose AutoText.
  4. Select the AutoText entry from the gallery (Figure D).

Figure D

Figure D

You can use the menu to insert an entry when you can't remember the entry's name.

2: Use a keyboard shortcut

If longer names are necessary to differentiate between similar entries, you can assign keyboard shortcuts instead of typing the entire name. The setup has a lot of steps, but it's straightforward:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options from the left pane.
  2. Choose Customize Ribbon from the left pane. In earlier versions, choose Customize Quick Access Toolbar or Customize.
  3. In the resulting dialog, click Customize to the right of Keyboard Shortcuts (Figure E) to display the Customize Keyboard dialog.
  4. In the Categories control, select Building Blocks. In earlier versions, choose AutoText.
  5. From the Building Blocks (or AutoText) list to the right, find the AutoText entry and select it.
  6. Click inside the Press New Shortcut Key control and press the keys you want to assign as your shortcut. In Figure F, you can see that I pressed the [Ctrl] key and then the T character.
  7. Click Assign, Close, and then OK to return to the document.

Figure E

Figure E

Find the Keyboard Shortcuts option.

Figure F

Figure F

Enter the desired shortcut for the AutoText entry.

To insert the entry using the keyboard shortcut, position the cursor and press [Ctrl]+T. Keep in mind that the keyboard combination you choose might already be assigned. In Figure F, for example, you can see that the combination [Ctrl]+T is assigned to the HangingIndent command. When this is the case, you can change the combination or let Word replace the previously assigned shortcut.

3: Modify an entry

Things change, but fortunately, modifying an existing entry is simple and intuitive. There's no interface to access, modify, and save an entry. Instead, you replace an entry as follows:

  1. Insert the AutoText entry.
  2. Make the necessary changes; you can change the text or the formatting.
  3. Select the modified content.
  4. Press [Alt]+[F3].
  5. Update the default name using the name of the original entry.
  6. Click Add.
  7. When Word asks to confirm the change, click Yes.

4: Delete an entry

If the list becomes too long, consider removing any entries you no longer use. You can do so as follows:

  1. On the Insert tab, choose AutoText from the Quick Parts dropdown (in the Text group).
  2. Right-click the entry you want to delete and choose Organize And Delete (Figure G).
  3. Word selects the entry you right-clicked. Click Delete in the Building Blocks Organizer (Figure H) dialog.
  4. Click Close.

Figure G

Figure G

Open the Building Blocks Organizer to delete AutoText entries.

Figure H

Figure H

With the entry selected, click Delete.

With the organizer open, you can delete other entries. You can also access this dialog by choosing Building Blocks Organizer from the Quick Parts dropdown. This route in is helpful if you don't remember the entry's name or the gallery has lots of custom entries.

5: Another shortcut

You don't have to type the entire name of an entry to insert it. You just need to type enough characters to create a unique string. For instance, if I had a second entry named TRLogo, I would have to enter trn or trl to insert the TRNameLogo or TRLogo entry, respectively. After entering the unique entry string, press [F3] to convert the name to the actual entry. If you're still using Word 2003, you can use Word's AutoComplete list.

6: Where to save

As I mentioned, Word stores AutoText entries in templates, not in the current document. When you create an AutoText entry, Word stores it in Normal.dotm (Normal.dot). If you only have a few entries, this works fine. However, if your collection of entries grows unwieldy, it might make sense to save your entries in custom templates—such as those you use for particular jobs or projects. You can easily do this by using the Save In option (Figure A) to access a list available templates. You just need to decide how to match the entries and templates with the way you work.

If you choose to save some AutoText entries in custom templates, remember that all entry names must be unique between each template and Normal. You can't have an entry with the same name in Normal and a custom template because Normal takes precedent, so you won't have access to the same-named entry in a custom template.

In addition, backing up your AutoText entries is as simple as saving a backup copy of your templates.

Also see: Use AutoText to save multiple return addresses

7: Document AutoText entries

You can document AutoText entries by printing a list; doing so is a good way to keep entry names close by for quick reference. To print a copy, do the following:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Print in the left pane. In Word 2003, choose Print from the File menu.
  2. Click the first Settings dropdown.
  3. Choose AutoText Entries (Figure I). In earlier Ribbon versions, choose Document Properties and then select AutoText Entries. In Word 2003, click AutoText Entries from the Print What dropdown.
  4. Click Print.

Figure I

Figure I

Print a list of AutoText entries.

Conclusion

Creating and using AutoText entries is easy. Perhaps the bigger challenge is remembering to use them. Once you're familiar with this feature, you'll quickly appreciate its advantages. You can benefit from storing simple phrases, such as company name, titles, and addresses and even often-used graphics, such as your company logo. This process comes in handy with any kind of repetitive content—legal, scientific, proposals, disclaimers, confidential statements, and so on.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. Please mention the app and version that you're using. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at susansalesharkins@gmail.com.

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About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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