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Creating Traditional Forms

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Creating Traditional Forms.

Many people use Word to create what I refer to as "traditional forms." By this I mean forms using nothing but text and lines; I do not mean the types of forms using special fields that Word allows you to create. Traditional forms are typically printed and reproduced to be filled-in by someone using a pen, pencil, or typewriter. They may include checkboxes, but often simply include response lines.

When putting together a form, many people type some text, and then follow that by a line for the form user to fill in. When creating the line, you have many different techniques you can use. The simplest is to use the underscore character (a shifted dash) to create the line. If you have multiple lines in the form you are creating, you won't get a professional look by using the underscore. This is due to the variable nature of proportional space fonts. When you use the underscore with other text on the same line, the right edges of your lines almost never line up.

To get around this problem, you can use tabs with leader characters to get a professional look. Simply type your text, followed by a space, then hit the Tab key. Format the line so that it has a right-aligned tab at the place you want the line to stop. Also make sure that the tab uses the underscore character for a leader. This approach looks much more professional than if you use underscores.

You can also use tables to put together your forms. For instance, you could use a two-column table. In the left column you would place your prompting text, and in the right put your underline characters. This is an easy approach, but it often places your fill-in-the-blank area (the underline) quite a distance from the prompting text. If you are creating simple forms, this may be more than acceptable, however.

Finally, you can use the drawing toolbar in Word to create your underlines. If you do this, you can place your underlines anywhere you want and make them any thickness you want. You display the drawing toolbar by selecting Toolbars from the View menu, and then making sure Drawing is selected.

If you want to frame your form, meaning to put a border around the whole thing, there are four ways you can do so. The first is by using a standard Word text box. If you do, however, make sure you create the text box before starting to design your form. If you don't, the text box displaces the text in your form and you need to move it all within the text box later. You can, of course, select the text that makes up your form, and then choose to insert a text box. In this case, the selected text (which is your form) is placed inside the text box. You may then have some reformatting to do to ensure your form appears as you expect.

Another way to put a border around your form is to use the rectangle tool from the drawing toolbar. Simply draw a rectangle around your form. If you use this method of bordering, some of the elements of your form (particularly if you are drawing lines) may disappear, depending on your drawing settings. You can get around this by selecting the rectangle and using the positioning tools on the drawing toolbar. The idea is to send the rectangle completely to the back of your form by selecting the Send to Back tool or the Send Behind Text tool.

A third way to create the border is to simply select all the paragraphs in your form and then choose Borders and Shading from the Format menu. You can select the type of border to create, and then choose a line effect for the border. There is one instance when this type of border will not work as expected: if you use different margin formatting on the paragraphs in your form. For instance, you may have a couple of paragraphs with a half-inch left and right indent, which makes the margins different than the other paragraphs in the form. In this case, this type of border will not look good.

If your form takes up an entire sheet of paper, you can add a border to the page itself. You do this by choosing Borders and Shading from the Format menu and then working with the Page Borders tab. The controls on this tab are very similar to those on the Borders tab, with the exception that they apply to the page as a whole.

A final word on putting your forms together: If you want to create check boxes, you can do so by using symbols. Choose Symbol from the Insert menu, and then make sure the Wingdings font is selected. Near the right side of the third row of symbols are a couple of boxes. These provide different effects, but work great for check boxes. Experiment a bit and select the box that is right for you.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (961) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Creating Traditional Forms.

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