10 ways to get more mileage out of Word 2010 templates

Document templates are one of Word's most powerful features. Here are some simple tricks for building templates that will streamline your document tasks.

Ah, the perfect template. Imagine it -- a beautiful, artistically designed template that does everything you ever wanted a template to do. It formats your text. It includes the controls you need to customize your content. It has placeholders for images, column divisions that are just right, and pithy little text boxes placed at the perfect locations on the page. What's more, the headers and footers work just the way you want them to. And then you wake up. This article introduces you to 10 things you might want to do with your Word templates to bring them just a bit closer to that perfect dream.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Start with what you've got

Sometimes it's fun -- and feels creative -- to begin with a blank window and dream up a great document with all the bells and whistles you can imagine. But often it's more practical -- and more productive -- to begin with a document you already use in your organization or business. Chances are you have a particular font, color scheme, and format you use to send out company correspondence. Maybe your newsletter has a certain look and feel, and you carry that forward to other communications that reach your public. Or maybe you like a certain Word theme, and you want to apply it, with its set of colors, fonts, and effects, to all the documents you create. A good way to build your template is to start with a type of document you use often, with formatting that's been approved by the Powers That Be.

2: Think reusability

Templates are supposed to save you time and trouble as you create new documents. A template can also give you a standard for certain elements (like format and color scheme) and let you create documents in which all the basic choices have already been made. When you think through the types of things you want in your template, consider what will save you the most time in your documents. If you always display the mission statement in the lower-left corner of the newsletter, for example, go ahead and add that text there so it will appear on every page. If you always use a short bio and photo of the Dean on the last page, create a content area there that includes the bio text as well as the Dean's approved photo. Now you won't have to go looking for it each time you get ready to send out the next issue.

Word 2010 also includes lots of prefab templates you can use as the basis for your new documents. In addition to the templates that come with the program, you have free access to all the templates on Office.com (which is a vast and continually growing supply). To find the templates in Word 2010, click the File tab and click New (Figure A). You'll see all sorts of template folders; just click the ones you want to look at and scroll through the choices. When you find one you want to use, click Create (or Download, depending on whether the template is part of the program or available online).

Figure A

You can choose from among a huge range of Word templates if you want to begin with a ready-made version.

3: Make a list of content types

Many of the templates that come with Word 2010 have placeholder text, images, tables, and more, which you can customize for your own documents or templates. If you're creating your template from scratch, think through the same things. What components will you need? Will your template include text, images, headers and footers, sidebars? Will you have headers and normal text? A masthead? An address block? Whatever the elements are, make a plan ahead of time so you know everything you need to include before you begin creating the template.

4: Add placeholders

When you create your template, add placeholders to store the information you'll replace when you're creating the actual document. One trick for adding dummy text easily is to use the rand() field. Simply click at the start of a new line and type =rand(). Word inserts a sample of text you can use to fill the space.

Create placeholders not only for text blocks but also for tables, pull quotes, captions, headlines, banners, tables of contents, images, and so on. This will save you time when you begin adding live content to the document down the road.

5: Set your styles

Of course, it's not all about blocks of content and themes. You can also create your own styles in the template to ensure that all the content you add is formatted correctly and consistently. Begin by formatting the content the way you want it. Then, right-click, choose Styles, and click Save Selection As A New Quick Style. Enter a name and click OK. This saves the style so that you, and others who work with the template, can choose the appropriate style from the Styles gallery on the Home tab.

6: Create your own building blocks

You can accomplish two goals for the price of one with your template if you create building blocks based on some of the items you've included in it. For example, if you always have a note that describes something about your newsletter -- who writes it, how often, and who it's written for -- you can save that text as a building block to be included in other documents you create that aren't based on this particular template. You can also save header and footer styles, table styles, and more. Simply create your own custom Quick Part by selecting the content you created, clicking the Insert tab, and clicking Quick Parts. At the bottom of the list, click Save Selection To Quick Part Gallery. In the Create New Building Block dialog box, name the Quick Part, choose where you want it to appear, and click OK.

7: Create different versions of the sample template

While you're creating a template for one document, it's not much more difficult to think through all the other types of documents you create regularly and create similar versions of your template to handle those projects as well. For example, if you're working on the newsletter template, you could easily save it and move things around for a brochure template, a flyer template, and a reminder postcard for upcoming events. The similar look and feel is a good thing in your readers' eyes -- design consistency helps them remember your brand. And it's a good thing for you, too, because it saves the time and trouble you'd spend whipping up new designs.

8: Go ahead -- add macros

If you're a macro aficionado, create and use the macros you like in the template you create. The macros can help you carry out routine tasks easily. You may want to warn colleagues, however, if macros are active in a document and you're sending the file by e-mail; sometimes, macro-enabled files send a red flag and the file will open only in Protected View until the person viewing the document clicks Enable Editing.

9: Insert your content controls

Maybe you plan to insert a customer's name at the start of a newsletter or customize a section of content based on what the customer purchased last month. If your template will include such variable information, you can add content controls to the template as you create it. A content control is a customizable tool you add to your page that elicits some kind of action from the person using the document. It might ask the reader to choose something from a list; it might offer check boxes or a comments box; or it might display information, such as customer name, product, or address.

To add and work with content controls, you must first display the Developer tab on the Ribbon. Just click the File tab, click Options, click Customize Ribbon, and click Developer in the box on the right (Figure B). Now click OK. The Developer tab is added to your Ribbon. You'll find the content controls in the Controls group of this tab.

Figure B

Add the Developer tab to the Ribbon if you want to insert and work with content controls.

10: Keep a master template and a tweakable version too

Once you're happy with the template you've created, you can use it and share it as needed. But before distributing it, you may want to password-protect it or set editing restrictions so that no one else can change the fine work you've done. Sooner or later, you're sure to get some feedback about ways you could improve the template. Or you may have a wish list of things you'd like to include when you get the time. To keep those creative juices flowing (and continue to improve the template), save a master copy to use regularly and keep a tweakable version that's kind of an "in process" document. You can keep that one under wraps, fine-tuning it here and there. Then, when it's ready, the new template becomes the one for everyday use, and you can create a new tweakable version for the future. That way, you keep everybody on the same page using the same template while you're still improving on it in the background.

Katherine Murray is the author of Microsoft Office 2010 Plain & Simple (Microsoft Press, 2010), Microsoft Word 2010 Plain & Simple (Microsoft Press, 2010), and Microsoft Word 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press, 2010). You can reach Katherine through her blog, BlogOffice or by emailing kmurray230@sbcglobal.net.