The right way to create a Word template

Sometimes it's tempting to take shortcuts, but fight the urge when creating a new Word template.

If you've worked hard to format a document just right, you might be tempted to use that document as a template, but don't. Your new template, and consequently, any new documents you base on that template, will start life with whatever garbage the original document acquired during its lifetime. All those little attributes and attempts at things that you tried, things you didn't complete, but didn't delete - all of it ends up in every new document. The best way to create a template is to start fresh, even though that might seem inefficient.

You might also consider creating a template by opening a new document the way you always do and then saving it as a template file - but don't do this either. Your new template and its offspring will be based on your current (and probably somewhat customized) Normal template. Any customization will show up in your new template and its offspring. To illustrate this seemingly innocuous behavior, do the following:

  1. Press [Ctrl]+o. In the Open dialog, click Trusted Templates. Double-click Normal.dotm. In Word 2003, you'll probably find in Documents and Settings\Administrator\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates.
  2. Right-click Normal in the Styles gallery and choose Modify. In Word 2003, choose Styles and Formatting  from the Format menu, and then, right-click Normal in the Styles task pane.
  3. Choose any color from the Color dropdown, replacing Automatic.
  4. Click OK.

Save Normal.dotm ( and close it. Now, press [Ctrl]+n to open a new document and start typing - the text will be in the color you just choose for Normal.dotm. Well, of course it is, and that's great for your new documents, but probably not a new template. (Don't forgot to change Normal.dotm's font color back to Automatic.) In addition, don't forget all the other customizations you've made that aren't even visible in a new document!

It's usually best to start a new template from scratch, as follows:

  1. Click the File menu. In Word 2007, click the Office button. Choose New in the left pane. In Word 2003, choose New from the File menu.
  2. Click My Templates in the Available Templates section. In Word 2003, click On My Computer in the New Document task pane.
  3. In the resulting dialog, click Blank Document.
  4. Then, click Template in the Create New section.
  5. Click OK.

In short, it only seems like there are several ways to create a new template. To be safe, follow these guidelines:

  • Don't base a new template on an existing document.
  • Don't base a new template on a new document file.
  • Always base a new template on a template file (as shown above).

If you want to base a template on an existing document for your own use, go ahead. If trouble arises, you're the only one that has to deal with it and the template might work fine. I don't recommend this route for development or templates you plan to distribute to others. In either of these cases, take the extra time to start from scratch. You'll avoid distributing unforgotten garbage and attributes that could come back to haunt you later.


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.


How do i do this in Word 2011 on a Mac?


How do you initiate a new template in word 2013? 


There's a much much easier way. If you're on a mac, make your template and go to File, Save As. After clicking Save As, click on the Format: box. When you click on this a drop menu appears and there is an option for Word Template. If you select Word Template, the save area automatically changes to My Templates where you can choose it again. Also remember to rename your new template.


I'm working on building a Word template for my company, so I really appreciate the details you've given so far. I'm making two versions, one for our Mac users and one for our PCs users. I'm starting with the Mac version, and I wanted to confirm that if I use the "Normal.dotm" file, is that the same and using the blank template option (since there isn't a blank template option in Word:mac 2011)? I'd hate to build it with Normal.dotm then find out that is the same as starting it with a new document file. Thanks!

For Word 2011 for Mac you can find the Normal.dotm file in: ~/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/User Templates The library directory is hidden so you'll need to "Go to folder" (shift + command + G) from a finder window.

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