Do you find yourself typing the same text over and over again in certain types of Outlook e-mail messages? You may change some of the content based on the situation or the recipient, but for the most part the text is basically the same. For example, you may regularly send technical notifications to network users that provide new information along with a series of precautionary steps that almost never change. The typical way to handle this type of boilerplate text is with a copy and paste operation. But why go though all those steps when there’s an easier way?

Just like its Office mates, Outlook provides support for templates. This allows you to design templates that you can use to create boilerplate e-mail messages. Another feature in Outlook will then allow you to create a toolbar button that instantly brings up a new message window that includes your boilerplate text. You can then focus on typing in the new information and simply incorporate the boilerplate text as you create a customized message.

I’ll show you how you go about creating an e-mail message template in Outlook. I’ll then show you how to create a toolbar, along with a button that instantly brings up a new message window that includes your boilerplate text.

Using the Outlook e-mail editor
If you’re like many Outlook users, chances are that you’ve configured Outlook to use Word as your e-mail editor. Doing so provides you with all sorts of additional features when creating e-mail messages. However, when it comes to creating Outlook e-mail templates, Word is clueless. As such, before you can create Outlook e-mail templates, you first have to revert back to the Outlook e-mail editor. Once you’ve created your e-mail templates, you can switch back to using Word as your e-mail editor and it will work just fine with the existing templates.

Just in case you don’t remember the steps required to change the Outlook e-mail editor, let’s take a quick refresher course. To begin, pull down the Tools menu and select the Options command. When you see the Options dialog box, select the Mail Format tab. Now, in the Message Format panel simply clear the Use Microsoft Word To Edit E-mail Messages check box, as shown in Figure A. Then, click OK. Finally, close and reopen Outlook, just to make sure that the change is complete.

Figure A
In order to initially create e-mail templates, you must be using the default Outlook e-mail editor.

If you want to switch back to using Word to edit e-mails, you’ll simply reverse this operation once you create your e-mail templates.

Creating your templates
Creating Outlook templates is a pretty straightforward operation, once you understand the technique. To begin, open a new message window as you normally would. For example, you can click the New Mail Message button on the toolbar.

Once the message window opens, you can type, or copy and paste, the boilerplate text into the body of the message. If the message template will contain the same words in the subject line, you can fill in the Subject field as well. You can also fill in the To, Cc and Bcc fields with addresses, if you will always be sending the message to some of the same people (the Cc and Bcc fields are the most likely candidates for this).

Now, pull down the File menu and select the Save As command. When you see the Save As dialog box, click the Save As Type drop-down arrow and select Outlook Template (*.oft) from the list of options, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
You’ll select Outlook Template (*.oft) from the Save As Type drop-down list.

Then, give the template a filename and take note of the folder in which the template is being saved. In the case of my example system with Outlook XP running on Windows XP, I specified that Outlook save the template in the C:\Documents and Settings\Greg Shultz\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates folder along with all my other Office templates. I selected this folder because I already have my backup program configured to back up these files.

Once you save the e-mail message template, the new message window remains on the screen. You don’t really need this window for anything further so you can close it and click No when asked if you want to save changes.

If you have Outlook configured to AutoSave unsent messages, you’ll find a copy of the message in the Outbox. You can simply access the Outbox and delete the message. You’ll then repeat these steps to create as many Outlook e-mail templates as you need.

The standard access method
Once you create an Outlook e-mail template, the standard way to go about using it is a long drawn out procedure that really isn’t much quicker than using the copy and paste operation that you were using previously. Fortunately, I found a way to create a toolbar and put buttons on it that automatically bring up the template. However, just to be thorough, I’m going to start out by briefly explaining the standard method of accessing Outlook templates. In addition to being thorough, revealing the standard method will help you to appreciate the elegance of my toolbar technique.

The standard method of accessing your Outlook e-mail templates begins by pulling down the Tools menu, accessing the Forms submenu, and selecting the Choose Form command. When you see the Choose Form dialog box, you then click the Look In drop-down arrow and select the folder in which you saved your template. If you chose to save the templates in the same folder as the other Office templates, you’d select the User Templates in File System folder, as shown in Figure C. To use your template, you have to scroll through the list of files and then double-click the appropriate template file.

Figure C
The standard method of accessing an Outlook e-mail template requires you to use the Choose Form dialog box.

Following these steps

Before we get started, keep in mind that I’m going to assume that you’ve created more than one Outlook e-mail template and will show you how to create a drop-down menu that will list each one of your templates. In the event that you’ve created only one template file, you can proceed with the “Creating the toolbar” section, skip the “Creating a drop-down menu” section, and go directly to the “Creating the buttons” section. You’ll then end up with a single button on the toolbar.

Creating the toolbar
Creating a new toolbar for your templates is easy. To begin, right-click on the Outlook toolbar and select Customize from the pop-up menu. You’ll then see the Customize dialog box, as shown in Figure D. You can also bring up the same dialog box by selecting the Customize command from the Tools menu.

Figure D
You’ll create the new toolbar using the features found in the Customize dialog box.

To get started, simply click the New button. When you see the New Toolbar dialog box, as shown in Figure E, just give your new toolbar a name, such as Templates, and click OK. When you do, you’ll find your new toolbar floating on the screen and will need to dock it onto Outlook. To do so, just drag the new toolbar to the Outlook toolbar area and drop it there. You may need to move it a bit in order to make it accessible.

Figure E
When you see the New Toolbar dialog box, you’ll give your new toolbar an appropriate name.

Creating the drop-down menu
As soon as you create the toolbar, you’re ready to create the drop-down menu. To do so, you’ll return to the Customize dialog box and select the Commands tab. Then, scroll all the way to the bottom of the Categories list box and select the New Menu item. When you do, you’ll see the New Menu item appear in the Commands list box, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F
The New Menu command allows you to add a drop-down menu to your new toolbar.

At this point, click on the New Menu item in the Commands list box, drag it to your new toolbar, and drop it there. As soon as the New Menu command is attached to your Templates toolbar, return to the Customize dialog box and select the Modify Selection button, which will now be available. Then, on the menu that pops up, type E-mail Templates in the Name field, as shown in Figure G, and then press the Enter key.

Figure G
You’ll use the Modify Selection button to access options associated with menus and button that you create with the Customize dialog box.

Creating the buttons
With the drop-down menu in place, all that’s left to do is to add buttons that link to your templates. To get started, you’ll once again return to the Customize dialog box, scroll all the way to the top of the Categories list box, and select the File item. Then, select the Mail Message item, as shown in Figure H, from the Commands list box, and drag it to your new toolbar. As soon as the E-mail Templates menu drops down, drop the Mail Message item there.

Figure H
You’ll use the Mail Message command as the source for your customized buttons.

Now, return to the Customize dialog box and select the Modify Selection button. When the menu pops up, type the name of one of your templates in the Name field—overwriting the existing text—as shown in Figure I.

Figure I
You’ll name the button with the same name as one of your templates.

As soon as you do, go to the bottom of this menu, access the Assign Hyperlink submenu, and select the Open command. When you see the Assign Hyperlink: Open dialog box, simply locate and select your template file, as shown in Figure J. Then, click OK.

Figure J
Use the controls in the Assign Hyperlink dialog box to locate and select one of your template files.

You’ll repeat the steps in this section to add each template that you’ve created to the drop-down menu. When you’re done, just close the Customize dialog box.

Now, anytime you need to compose an e-mail message that will include your boilerplate text, you just pull down the E-mail Templates menu and select the appropriate template, as shown in Figure K, and up pops a new e-mail message window that includes the boilerplate text. What could be easier than that?

Figure K
All your templates are now easily accessible via the drop-down menu.