Word offers a healthy arsenal of tools for creating online forms—in fact, it dedicates an entire toolbar just to form-specific buttons. But before your students grapple with the intricacies of form fields, automated help, default entries, and form protection, they’ll need to build a structure for the form. By far the easiest and most flexible way to do this is to insert a Word table and then merge cells and apply borders to create the areas that will hold the form data.

Less experienced users tend to think of Word tables as a sort of online graph paper—a grid of identical cells. As the form in Figure A shows, however, it’s possible to turn that grid into a sophisticated structure. (This form is actually built from a number of individual tables—another handy trick!)

Figure A
Word’s table feature makes it possible to create a framework to accommodate form data.

If you’re teaching a class full of fledgling form designers, here’s a practical, hands-on project to help bring them up to speed on tables. Have your students sketch out a form on a piece of paper or bring in a printed copy of a pre-designed form, such as an invoice from work. Then, tell them to insert a Word table in a document and try to duplicate the sketch or printed form by manipulating cells and borders, applying formatting, and adding text labels.

It’s generally a good idea to keep your students from attempting anything too complex or fancy; you may want to suggest they focus on re-creating just a portion of a form if the process becomes too complicated. The important thing is that they see first-hand how to take charge of Word’s table tools to achieve a specific, tangible result. They’ll wind up with a more open-minded appreciation for the versatility of tables and they’ll be all set to design their own forms down the road.

Now, those tricks…
Depending on the skill level of your students, you may have to do a fair amount of handholding as they begin to work with their tables. In fact, if you’re teaching a class of beginners, you might need to demonstrate some basic table procedures before they get started. Here’s a list of useful tips and shortcuts you can introduce to your students. They may want to turn the list into a cheat sheet to use as a reference during your class and once they return to work.

Do you often incorporate hands-on activities into your training? If so, please send us a note and tell us about your favorite—and most successful—classroom projects. To share your thoughts on this article, post a comment below.