How to create an electronic form using Word 2010 content controls

Use Word 2010's content controls to create easy-to-use electronic forms. They're similar to Word 2003's form fields, but better.

Word forms allow you to gather information in an easy way. They're easy to create, easy to use, and have almost unlimited possibilities. I'll show you how to create these useful forms by creating a simple evaluation form - the type you might fill out after attending a workshop or seminar.

Before you can create the form, you have to find the controls. To create a form in Word 2003, you must display the Form toolbar. You'll use what we call form fields. (These aren't the same as coded fields that you insert by choosing Field from the Insert menu; these are controls.) In Word 2007 and 2010, you'll find form fields on the Developer toolbar in the Controls group. Click the Legacy option's dropdown to see form fields ( Word 2003) and ActiveX controls.

If Word 2010's Developer tab isn't visible, do the following to display it:

  1. Click the Quick Access Toolbar dropdown (you're not adding anything to the QAT, but this route gives you quick access to the ribbon options).
  2. Choose More Commands.
  3. In the left pane, click Customize Ribbon.
  4. In the list to the right under Main Tabs, check Developer and click OK.

In the Controls group (on the Developer tab), you'll see a number of other controls - some seem to duplicate the Legacy option's controls. These new controls are content controls. We'll be working with content controls, but you can replicate some of their functionality in Word 2003 using form fields.

You can insert form controls directly into a document, but consider inserting them into a table instead. They're a bit easier to corral that way. For instance, I've inserted a two-column, five-row table into the document shown below. In the left column, I've entered descriptive labels for the content controls. (Choose Table from the Insert menu/tab.) We'll enter the appropriate content controls into the right column. Specifically, we'll enter two text fields, one date field, and two lists.

First, let's enter a text field for the class ID, as follows:

  1. Select the first cell in the right column (to the right of the label, Class).
  2. Click Plain Text Content Control in the Controls group (on the Developer tab). In Word 2003, click Text Form Field on the Forms toolbar.

That's all there is to it, although you can click Properties (in the Control group) to better define the control. For now, the default options are fine. Enter a second Plain Text Content Control for the instructor's name. Next, add a Date Picker Content Control as follows:

  1. Select the third cell in the right column and click Date Picker Content Control in the Controls group. (There's no comparable field in Word 2003. Use a text field and set its type to Date.
  2. Click the Properties option in the Controls group, set the format to m/d/yy, and click OK.

At this point, you have three controls and you've not had to work very hard. You can add a title and flag a few settings, but there's just not a lot that has to be done.

Now, add a control that lets users choose an item from a list. Specifically, add a list of ratings so the students can score the instructor on preparation and content. Specifically, create a list of five possible scores, from very poor to excellent, as follows:

  1. Select the fourth cell in the right column and click Drop Down List Content Control in the Controls group (Drop Down Form Field in Word 2003).
  2. Click Properties.
  3. Click Add.
  4. Enter Very poor in the Display Name control.
  5. Enter 1 in the Value control.
  6. Click OK.
  7. Repeat steps 3 through 6 to create the list shown below. When you're done, click OK.

Repeat the above instructions to add another Drop Down List Content Control for the last cell in the right column. Or, simply copy it—yes, you can copy a control!

Once you've inserted all the content controls (or form fields), protect the document as follows:

  1. Press Ctrl+A to select the entire document (or select only the table if you're working in a larger document).
  2. Choose Group from the Controls menu. (You'll skip this in Word 2003.)
  3. Click Restrict Editing in the Protect group. (In Word 2003, choose Protect Document from the Tools menu).
  4. Check 2. Editing restrictions.
  5. From the dropdown, choose Filling In Forms.
  6. Save the form, close it, and reopen it.

To use the form, simply press tab to select the first content control. (When adding the content controls, you can change the default instructions.) Enter a class ID and press tab. Enter the instructor's name and press tab. To enter a date, click the dropdown and click a date. Word will enter the date in the format you selected when you set the control's properties. Press Tab to move to the next control.

The next two controls are list controls. Click the dropdown for each and select one of the list items.

Word content controls and form fields are an excellent way to implement a bit of control and consistency when gathering information.


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.

Editor's Picks