Anatomy of Word: Create an employment application form using Word's table features

In this last part of the Word Tables series you learn how to use Word tables to create dynamic forms for use in your organization.

In the first two parts of this series, you learned how to create basic tables and make your Word tables Excel-like through the use of formulas. In this last part of this series, you will learn how to use Word tables to make it easier to create forms for use in your organization.

A little about this series

This series is broken into three parts:

Word forms

When you think of a form, you probably think of something like the piece of paper you fill out at the DMV, with boxes asking you for information such as your name, address, etc. If you look at an employment application, you'll probably see various requests for information including your employment history, educational history and so on. What do many forms that you use have in common? If you look carefully at them, you might be able to visualize them as tables. In you can, in fact, visualize your forms as tables, you can probably replicate that form in Word and make it easier for people to fill out.

We’ll just jump right in and get started creating a form to use as an example. By the end of this article, you’ll have a complete employment application form and you’ll be able to have people fill it out using their computer.

You’ve probably assumed by now that, to create good-looking forms, you need to know the basics about how to create and manipulate tables in Word. Look to my previous two articles in this series to give you pointers about these operations.

The Forms toolbar

To really make use of forms in Word, you need to get to know and become familiar with the Forms toolbar (Figure A), available by choosing View | Toolbars | Forms.

Figure A

The Word 2003 Forms toolbar

I’ll go over the function of each button. Not all of them may make sense quite yet, but you’ll see most, if not all, of them in action before you’re done with this article.

The first button on the toolbar—the one that looks like "AB|"—allows you to place what’s called a “text form field” on your new form. A form field is an area on your new form where someone electronically filling out the form can place their cursor and type information and it will show up in the right place. If this doesn’t make sense right now, that’s ok. It will soon.

A text form field can hold data such as text, dates, phone numbers, normal numbers and more. When you use these fields to hold numbers, you can perform calculations on these kinds of fields.

The second button—the checkbox—allows you to place a “check box form field” on your form. A check box form field is useful if you need to ask “Yes/No” type questions, such as “I’ve been convicted of a felony”. If the person checks the box, they’re indicating that they have, in fact, run afoul of the law at some point in their life.

The third button, which looks like a Windows window, lets you put a drop-down selector on your form with specific values. For example, you might put a drop-down option on your form to ask for an applicant’s highest level of completed education.

The form field options button—the fourth from the left and grayed out in Figure A—provides you with a place to set options for each individual field on your form. Using this button, you can set default text for a field, or provide the options for a drop-down selection list.

The next two buttons allow you to either draw a table or insert a table into your Word document. Since tables and forms are so tightly intertwined, Microsoft decided to make it easy for you to add tables to your Word document right from the Forms toolbar.

The last four buttons, in order are:

  • Insert Frame: Allows you to insert a frame into your Word document into which you can place a picture or other object.
  • Form Field Shading: When you’re working on a form, it can be nice to separate the form fields from the normal text. Using this button, you can make the fields on your form stand out by shading them in gray.
  • Reset Form Fields:
  • Protect Form: Locks the fields so that a user can’t change the way you’ve set them up. The user will only be able to fill in the fields as you expect them to.

Create a simple form

Disclaimer: I am not an artistic kind of guy hence my form may be somewhat ugly to some of you! The sample application that I’m creating as an example for you is also available in the zip file associated with this download.

Ok, with the preliminaries out of the way, let’s create a simple application form. Before you jump right into creating the form, you should put together a list of the fields you plan on using on the form and identify what kind of form field should hold the data.

These are the fields we’ll use for this simple employment application:

Position applying for (text)

  • Date (text)
  • Last name (text)
  • First name (text)
  • Middle initial (text)
  • Address (text)
  • City (text)
  • State (text)
  • ZIP code (text)
  • Ever been convicted of a felony? (check box)
  • Ever been in the service? (check box)
  • Highest level of education completed. (drop down selection box)
  • Previous job information (3 slots):
  1. Title (text)
  2. Name of company (text)
  3. Name of supervisor (text)
  4. Supervisor phone (text)
  5. Fired? (checkbox)

The first step is to provide a general layout for the form using a table. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect at this point, but it helps to give you a general sense of where things belong. I’ll use the table layout below to get started. Figure B below gives you a general look at the general format I’ll use.

Figure B

Here’s the sample form with the field names in place.

Note that the form in Figure B has headings for each field. Note that these headings are not your actual fields. Just like on a normal form, the headings serve the purpose of indicating to the person completing the form what information is to be provided in each blank.

Now, we’ll start adding fields to the form, starting with the date and position fields. When you add a field to the form, treat the field just like any other text. So, for example, if you want to have the text in the field aligned at a specific tab stop, make sure to align your field with that tab stop. Allow me to demonstrate.

To add text fields that will correspond to the date and position, position your cursor where you want each field and click the Text Form Field button on the Forms toolbar. I’ve shown you in Figure C the result of this operation.

Figure C

A text field looks like a gray box with a bunch of zeros.

I’ve highlighted in green the two new text fields I added that will correspond to the entry for the current date and the position for which the person is applying. I’ve also turned on Word’s feature that allows you to see tabs. In this example, note that each field lines up perfectly with the tab stop that I added at the 0.75” position.

Now, let’s assume that applicants are filling out and turning in their application on the same day. Why not make it a little easier for them, and help to reduce errors, by automatically filling the date field with the current date? It’s pretty easy to do! All you need to do is modify the properties for the new field and tell it that you want it to automatically fill in today’s date.

To do this, right-click the field and, from the resulting shortcut menu, choose the Properties option. This opens a window similar to the one shown below in Figure D, where I have already set the properties for the Date field.

Figure D

The Text Form Field Options window lets you quickly customize and streamline your form.

In this window, you can choose a number of style options that change depending on the type of data you plan to have in the field. For example, in Figure D, since I’ve opted to use the Current Date option (in the Type field), I get a “Date Format” option, which allows me to dictate how I want the date to appear. In this case, I’m using the format MMMM d, yyyy, which will spell out the month. (i.e. February 15, 2006). If I had opted for a “Text Format” type, I’d get a “Text Formatting” option instead.

Toward the bottom part of the window, look for the Bookmark option. In this field, I’ve entered the name of my form field. This makes it easier for me later on as I’m making changes, but can also serve other useful purposes.

The position field is handled differently since the applicant needs to fill in this information. In this case, I’ll set this field up as a regular text field and allow it to be filled in. If you need to, you can disable a particular field from being filled in and still leave it on the form so people can see it. Figure E shows you the options for the Position field. Note that I have named the field Position.

Figure E

The field options for the Position field.

The same procedure is carried out for all of the other text fields. If you’re following along, go ahead and create fields for all of the remaining text fields on the form.

With the text fields added, now we’ll add the few “check box” fields indicated on the list. Just like a text field, you can use tab stops to exactly position a check box where you want it. Once you have your cursor in position, just click the Check Box Form Field button on the Forms toolbar. Not much happens except a little black box on a gray background shows up on your document. (Figure F)

Figure F

I’ve highlighted the new checkboxes in green.

Like a text field, a checkbox field has a properties page you can access by right-clicking the checkbox and, from the shortcut menu, choosing the Properties option. In this case, there are fewer options. I’ve shown them to you in Figure G.

Figure G

The field options window for a checkbox field.

For a checkbox, you can basically choose just the size of the box and decide whether or not it will be checked for the user. If you choose checked, the user is able to uncheck the box. For all of the checkbox fields on the application, I’ll set the properties to Unchecked. I’ve also named this field, and will do so for the remaining checkbox fields as well.

Finally, we just have to provide the drop-down field so the applicant can quickly indicate his or her highest level of completed education. As you probably guessed, tab stops are used to line things up! Once you have your cursor in position next to the “Highest level of education completed” field, click the Drop-Down Form Field button on the Forms toolbar. This time, a blank gray box appears.

With the other two types of fields—text and check box—you don’t really have to ever open the properties unless you want to do something special. With a drop-down field, on the other hand, you have to open the field properties (Figure H) in order to specify the options that should appear on the list.

Figure H

The drop down list has been populated!

In Figure H, I’ve shown you the properties page for the populated Education field. If you wanted to add other options, just type the option name into the Drop-down item box and click Add. If you want to remove an item, click the Remove button. You can reorder the items using the Move (up and down) buttons.

At this point, all of the fields have been added to the application. Figure I shows you the application ready to be deployed.

Figure I

Here’s a look at the application with all of the fields in place.

Deploy the application

Before you continue, you need to lock your form so that, as people are filling it out, they can only fill in the fields you’ve provided and not make changes to other areas, such as your headings. On the Forms toolbar, click the lock icon to protect your form from tampering.

The best way to start using a new form is to save it as a Word template file so it’s easy to reuse over and over. To save as a Word template, choose File | Save As. At the bottom of the Save As window, choose the drop down option next to “Save as type” and choose the “Document Template (*.dot)” option and type a name for the new file.

Now, to use the form, go to File | New. The New Document sidebar opens. From the sidebar, choose On My Computer to open up a list of the templates available for use on your computer. Choose your new form and click OK.

With your new form open, you can use the Tab key to move from field to field. To fill in a checkbox field, just click on it. To select an option from the drop-down menu, click the down arrow next to the field and make your selection.

If you want to experiment with a working form, I’ve included this sample application as part of this download. It’s 100% working and can help give you an idea about how to create your own forms.

Powerful tables

This completes my series dealing with Word tables and forms. You’ve probably noticed that Word tables and forms can be pretty powerful!

In my next articles, I’ll start working with Word 2003’s mail merge feature.