Online forms are supposed to make life easier for those who have to fill them out—tab, tab, tab, and you’re done. Unfortunately, confusing forms abound, forcing users to waste time guessing what information is required or trying to figure out how to navigate from one field to another. One of the best ways to reduce this type of confusion is to include built-in help messages to guide users as they fill out a form. As luck would have it, Word makes it easy to add help messages—and you can walk your students through the procedure in a matter of minutes. Let’s use the sample form template shown in Figure A to demonstrate Word’s built-in help features.
Adding help to a form is a simple undertaking, and the help messages can make the process of filling out a form go more smoothly. However, built-in help is beneficial only if users realize it’s available. So make sure your students remember to include some text in their forms that tells users to look in the status bar or press [F1] for extra help.

We’ll add help messages to this form template to provide instructions on filling it out.

A simple message
Since you’re going to modify the template, step one is to unprotect it by clicking Protect Form on the Forms toolbar. (Unprotecting a form enables you to change it rather than fill it out.) Now, let’s create a help message for the Requestor field.

  1. Double-click the Requestor field to open its Text Form Field Options dialog box.
  2. Click the Add Help Text button to open the Form Field Help Text dialog box, shown in Figure B.

When you click Add Help Text, Word will display this dialog box.

You’ll notice that this dialog box includes two tabs for displaying a help message—one for the status bar and one for the [F1] key. In fact, both tabs offer the same options; the only difference is where the message will appear. Let’s set up a status bar message first.

  1. Click in the Type Your Own box. (The AutoText option lets you specify an AutoText entry that includes your help text, but we’ll just type ours from scratch.)
  2. Type Please enter your name, then press [Tab]. Click OK, and then click OK again.

To try out the message, click the Protect Form button. Click in another field, then click in the Requestor field to enter it and activate the status bar help. Now if you check out the status bar, you’ll see your message, as shown in Figure C.

When you enter the Requestor field, your message will appear in the status bar.

More detailed messages
If you want, you can set up a more elaborate message. Let’s beef up the message for the Description field.

  1. Unprotect the form by clicking Protect Form, then double-click the Description field.
  2. Click the Add Help Text button and click the Help Key (F1) tab.
  3. Type a more elaborate message in the Type Your Own box, then click OK twice to return to the form.
  4. Reprotect the form. Since you’re already in the Description field, just press [F1] to display its help message, shown in Figure D.

Pressing [F1] will display the help message.

Focus on forms
Do your students ask you to teach them about Word’s forms feature, or does it fall into the category of “who’s got time to learn this”? Post a comment below and share your thoughts on forms training.