Office Q&A: How to hide control tags and use conditional formatting

Susan Harkins shares Office solutions for three readers. Find out how to hide control tags, use conditional formatting, and display a two-week calendar.

One thing is for sure -- it makes no difference which application you're using, Office users have interesting questions. In addition, when a user needs a bit of help, the chances are that other readers have struggled with the same problem or something similar. This past month, I helped a reader hide control tags and put a conditional format to use. Unfortunately, I also disappointed a reader because sometimes, what you need just isn't possible. I provided the best solution I could, but it wasn't the solution the reader was seeking.

The only downloadable demo file is an Excel workbook. You'll need to update the dates by changing at least one date to four days out -- that will make more sense once you read about the solution.

Hiding tags

After reading one of my previous posts, "Office 2013 visual enhancements will make your documents pop," Daisy asked how to hide a control's tag when printing. By default, if you leave a content control empty, the control will display and print its tag (Figure A).

Figure A


Figure A

If you leave a content control empty, the control will display and print its tag.

The solution is simple, but it isn't exactly intuitive. Word has a built-in style for controls. You can modify the style by applying the Hidden font property. Here's how to update the control's built-in style:

  1. Click the Styles group's dialog launcher (on the Home tab).
  2. In the resulting task pane (Figure B), click the last button on the right in the bottom row. It’s named Manage Styles.
    Figure B
    Figure B
  3. In the resulting dialog box, choose Alphabetical from the Sort Order drop-down menu.
  4. Find and select Placeholder Text (Always Hidden) in the list of styles. It's gray because it’s hidden.
  5. Click Modify.
  6. In the resulting dialog, choose Font from the Format drop-down (at the bottom-right), as shown in Figure C.
    Figure C
    Figure C
  7. Check the Hidden property (Figure D). There are three click states, so be sure you check it!
    Figure D
    Figure D
  8. Click OK three times.

Modifying this style updates existing controls. Any controls you insert after the change will apply the Hidden property automatically. When changing the style, you can choose to update only the current document or the underlying template.

More on conditional formatting

James needed a conditional format that shaded a record when a specific date was four days from the current date. The easy way is to use a formula that subtracts the current date from the stored date, and then use a conditional formula rule that shades a record when the value is 4. Believe me, this is easier than it sounds.

First, let's try a helper column. Figure E shows stored dates in column A and the results of the formula in column B:


Passed dates return a negative value. The current date returns 0. Future dates return the number of days beyond the current day.

Figure E


Figure E

The stored dates in column A and the results of the formula in column B.

With the formula in place, you're ready to add a conditional format rule that evaluates the formula in column B. Follow these steps:

  1. Select the data range. In this case, that's A2:B5.
  2. On the Home tab, click Conditional Formatting in the Styles group and choose New Rule.
  3. In the Select a Rule Type pane, select Use a formula to determine which cells to format.
  4. Enter the following formula =B2=4 (Figure F).
    Figure F
    Figure F
  5. Click the Format button.
  6. Click the Fill tab.
  7. Choose a color from the palette.
  8. Click OK twice.

Figure G shows the results. This formulaic rule only shades a row when the row's corresponding value in column B equals 4.

Figure G


Figure G

The results of the formula.

You can eliminate the helper column and include the formula in the rule by using the following formula in step 4:


Outlook's two-week calendar view -- there isn't one

Paul wanted Outlook to default to a two-week calendar. Unfortunately, Outlook doesn't offer a two-week calendar view, which is curious considering a lot of users would probably use it. However, there are a couple of tricks, but nothing that's permanent. I'll show you two ways to view two weeks (sort of) at a time, but there's no silver bullet.

The easiest way is to select the two weeks in the Navigation Pane. As you can see in Figure H, I've selected February 16 through March 1, and Outlook updated the calendar view using a month-style format. There's not much you can do about the format of the view, but it's a quick-and-easy way to see two weeks at a time. (You can use this selection trick to display any number of configurations, not just two weeks.)

Figure H


Figure H

Displaying two weeks in Outlook.

There's a second trick that's won't render a two-week calendar in full, but it does use the week format, which you might prefer to the month-style grid shown above. Click the first day you want to see, then hold down the [Alt] key and press 10 (1 and then 0). Doing this will display 10 days in a week format (Figure I).

Figure I 


Figure I

Displaying 10 days in a week format. 

I don't believe there's any way to persist a two-week calendar. Once you move to another folder, your calendar view will revert to its standard view.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. When contacting me, be as specific as possible: For instance, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise, nor do I ask for a fee from readers. You can contact me at