Software

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.

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.

19 comments
JacquiLamb
JacquiLamb

Loved this and created my form easily. Can anyone advise how to add a button (?) which will enable users to click and send to our helpdesk automatically. They are not bright enough to be able to send as an attachment

tamio2005
tamio2005

Hi, Thanks for the writeup. However - how do you then use the values (ie. 1, 2 etc) you've assigned for the dropdown list entries ? In my project I can't get hold of the object name for the content control and therefore can't reference the selected values. Object names for the textboxes I create come up via the Property window - but, the content control property window doesn't show the full set of object properties. Thanks. TM, Zambia.

markwilla
markwilla

Thanks for a great article. It was well written and very informative. However... The one problem I find with forms created using Word, is that the form filler needs Word too! Of course, most businesses and organisations do have access to Word, but many individuals don't! As such, a form created in Word is useless to a large number of users because they don't have the application to open it, let alone fill it in! You don't have this problem with PDF forms because Adobe (and other developers) provide a free PDF reader so forms can be filled in by anyone. However, you do need Adobe LiveCycle or Acrobat to create PDF forms but these solutions are expensive and unlikely to be a cost-effective purchase for one-off or infrequent form design projects. To solve the inaccessibility of Word forms and the expense of creating PDF forms, I decided to use a Windows application called InForm Designer. It allows me to create electronic forms extremely quickly, and even has functionality to enable only the filled in content to be printed on to pre-printed forms. The licensing mechanism for InForm Designer makes it an extremely cost effective form design application. All you need to do is license the tools you use to design your forms. For example, if all you added to a form were text boxes and associated labels, all you would buy licences for are the Text Box tool and the Label tool (costing just $10 and $5). Fly Software, who develop InForm Designer, also have a free-to-use InForm Filler application that can be used to open and fill in any InForm form. I guess you can liken this to Adobe Reader. If you are interested in InForm Designer you can find out more and download it here... http://www.flysoftware.com I hope you find it as useful as I did. Edit: For typos!

Acceptance
Acceptance

FINALLY got Word 2010 and am working on my first fillable form. So of course it has to be a little complicated. I've got the basics I think, plain text, date picker, check box are all on my form. However it's my understanding I can limit the amount of text in a field and can't sort that out. Also some areas of the form will have multiple dates so am I correct that would have to be in plain text only? When I click on Content Control Properties I have no real options except style. As far as the article goes, it was okay but should be directed at one version or the other, to go back and forth I found confusing. You only are using one version at a time.

dlflynn
dlflynn

Thanks, this was great! I haven't worked creating forms in 2007 or 2010 and I couldn't stop my work to figure it out and help this colleague or develop instructions for her. Now I don't have to. D.

pswiderski
pswiderski

I've used form fields for years, but this is my first try with content controls. I protect the document just as you described and just as I had in the past, but when I tab into a control it treats the tab as a tab and adds 1/2" spacing within the individual content control. It doesn't tab to the next control. What am I doing wrong? Thanks

Poetic1
Poetic1

I agree Salmanassar. This was exactly what I needed. Clean, concise with nothing excessive...GREAT!! Thank you... Rick

Salmanassar
Salmanassar

Nicely done. This is a document that we can use to instruct "ordinary users". Thanks for the effort and keep it up!

eirearmenia
eirearmenia

Very useful this lesson Thanks a lot

rwbyshe
rwbyshe

A good article/blog post but... 1. Not available as a .pdf download 2. Can't print from the print link when you click on "more+" 3. Can't copy and paste the info into a Word doc without all of the info in black backgrounds. If you're really trying to provide this info for us to use this one as made available is a bit of a flop.

Art_Jeffries
Art_Jeffries

For lost sould who don't have Internet access and we can take it to them offline?

pswiderski
pswiderski

It turns out that the tabbing issue is only an issue when I use rich text content control fields. Maybe it's a feature. I fixed my issue by using plain text controls, but I'm a curious as to how you use rich text controls.

cioangel
cioangel

I could print every info that displayed on the website and I even .pdf downloaded it via Chrome and all through "more+". The flop is not on their end.

DFagerstrom
DFagerstrom

I think that of TechRep blogs, it's only Susan's that present this annoyance. Coupla workarounds: 1. If you browse in Internet Explorer 8 and aim to create a searchable MSWord file, you can Sel_Copy TEXT portion, then paste into Wordpad. In Worpad Sel_Copy then paste into Word. Blackbackground will be gone. GRAPHICS you must capture separately, using, say SnagIt. 2. If you browse in, say, FireFox 3.0.1.9, you Sel_Copy and paste directly into Word, graphics and all.

Poetic1
Poetic1

1) Click just before the "H" in the title "How to create an electronic form using Word 2010 content controls" at the top. (You won't see a flashing cursor...just assume that it is there.) 2) Now, hold down the SHIFT key and scroll all the way down to the end of the article and, while still holding the SHIFT key, click at the end of the last paragraph (the one that ends with the words "gathering information"). The text and graphics of the article should be selected/highlighted. 3) Now, press CTRL+C to Copy 4) If necessary, open Word...if it is already open, make sure that a Blank document is active 5) With the cursor flashing at the top of the active document, Press CTRL+V to paste the copied article. 6) All of the article should paste with both the text and its graphics and none of what is on the right or left. NOTE: You may find that there will be excess paragraph marks in the top portion of the pasted text because space will be made for the "Votes and Comments" box. Just delete what you don't want if that does happen.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Just so everyone knows -- this isn't something I can provide. I don't want you guys getting the idea that I could do this for you, but have chosen not to. Thanks for reading! -- Susan H.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

The plan is to add a "Make this a PDF" button to all the blogs very soon. In the meantime, I will forward this discussion thread to the powers that be as an indication of how much this feature is desired.