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Building a Word 2003 Template: The Basic Hammer-and-Four-Nails Guide

Are you formatting the same document over and over? Want to kick your formatting into overdrive? Laurie Rowell shows you that building your own templates in Word 2003 is easy, and the results offer you great-looking documents in a fraction of the time.
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Is one of your lifelong dreams to turn out elegant, professional, distinctive-looking documents every time you print something from Word?

No? Well, perhaps you have higher aspirations. If, however, you want to use Word 2003 templates and styles to whip up a few gorgeous written works while you're waiting to take the Olympic title in knitting or the Macarthur Genius Prize for your teleportation wig, you have landed on exactly the right Web page.

And although a tidy Word template does not make you world-famous, it can help you turn out sharp-looking work and save you up to 90 percent of your formatting time on any kind of document that you produce often: letters, resumes, newsletters, manuals, term papers, screenplays, flyers, catalogs, or training materials—to mention a few.

What Is a Template?

A template is a special kind of Word document that is saved just to be a pattern for other documents. Any time you open a blank document in Word, you are using one template or another. In general, it is the Normal.dot template, which is the global default in Word. Make changes to templates that you download from the Microsoft Web site or create new ones as described here, but leave the Normal.dot template as it is.

When you save a document as a template, you preserve any text, autotext, macros, toolbars, keyboard shortcuts, and styles that you might have included. It underlies all future work that you build with it—preserving the headers, footers, page design elements, and logos that you want carried from one document to another and always positioned exactly as they are in this one perfect design.

If the design turns out not to be perfect, you can update it and (with a minimum of fiddling) replicate that change throughout all documents past and future that have been or will be made from this template. And they say technology cannot overcome the barrier of time. Ha!

When I first began using a word processor (back in the dawn of microcomputers when I was a child prodigy), I was still excited that rethinking a paragraph of my text did not mean painting a page white and typing over it. To save time on creating new work, I would open an old file similar to the one I wanted to create, erase what I didn't need, and begin to type my text—saving this new document to another file. Unhappily, I occasionally saved a newly deleted file over one I had meant to keep. I also found that I was subject to "improvement creep" as I made little changes along the way. This was not a problem with my term papers, but it started making a difference quickly when I moved to business correspondence, where I wanted a consistent look.

A number of people still use this approach: opening an old document to use as a pattern. Save yourself grief. Set up styles as you go and save that document as a template.

In other words, you create that first document to use as a pattern, just as I did in the old days. You even save it in exactly the same way. Here is the process I use:

  1. Save the document as a regular .doc Word document first.

  2. Count to 10 and check your file listing to ensure that you really have saved your file. Save it again to be sure.

  3. Reopen the document, delete any text in the template that you do not want repeated word-for-word in other documents of this type, and save it again as a template.

The astute among you may notice some paranoia with regard to the process of saving. For the brave, the procedures in Step 2, counting to 10 and saving the template twice, are not strictly necessary. But when you create a template from an original document, it is possible to lose the text on that original if (not that anyone we know would do anything this stupid) but if you were to delete all the text and save over the original name as a regular Word document instead of saving as a template.

For this reason, some designers create a template in a blank Word page without creating a document at the same time. This is a sensible approach—if a bit lacking in zip for the risk junkies.

No matter how you go about it, creating your own templates gives you power over your documents and makes them distinctive. Besides, it's easy. All you have to understand is how to create a few styles.

Changing the Default Styles: Headings and Body Text

Word has several built-in styles that all templates inherit from the Normal template. In Word 2003, the easiest way to look them over and apply them to your text is to display them in the task pane by going to the Format menu and clicking Styles and Formatting. The styles that appear—such as Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3—are already set up with default fonts and sizes.

If you right-click any existing styles in the task pane, you can select Modify from the drop-down menu to change the size, font, spacing, and so on. The Modify Style dialog box, shown in Figure 1, contains some elements that might not be self-explanatory, but that you will want to review—and possibly change—for each style you modify.

The first field to check is the "based on" field, which allows you to tie together certain formats into bundles or hierarchies that depend on one another. By default, all the provided styles in Word 2003 are based on the Normal style. To break this connection and start a new hierarchy, make Heading 1, which is always the title of your work, based on no style. Then you can set up your template so that the Heading 2 style is based on Heading 1, and Heading 3 is based on Heading 2. In that way, if you change the font of Heading 1, the change will replicate throughout the hierarchy.

A second field to consider when you are setting up a new style is called Style for following paragraph. It addresses the question, "When you select this style in your finished documents, which style will you want next?" For most of your styles, you will want Body Text next.

The third element to note in the Modify Style dialog box is the check box called Automatically update. If you select this check box, Word redefines the style for you on the fly any time you apply formatting to a paragraph with that style. In other words, if you make a paragraph of Body Text bold, Word redefines Body Text for your template so that all your Body Text is suddenly bold. If you are new to creating templates, leave this box clear. In fact, after years of creating templates, I still find it more convenient to leave it clear. You can always update a style manually by right-clicking it in the list and selecting Modify.

Because styles in Word are seen as applying to paragraphs, many of the changes to styles are paragraph changes. To double-space the text, add a space before or after the paragraph, or add automatic indention, you must click the Format button and choose Paragraph (Figure 2) to see these options.

In general, even the simplest Word templates define Headings 1 and 2 and Body Text. In Word 2003, Body Text appears as one of the default style choices. Select it and modify it to the format you want to see for most of the text in your document.

For Body Text, as for Heading 1, do not base your style on Normal; change it to no style. Then, if you modify subordinate Body Text styles, such as Body Text 2 and Body Text Indent, you can base these styles on Body Text (as shown in Figure 3), instead of on Normal.

If you decide to define styles for numbered lists, bulleted lists, or graphics, it is a good idea to set up the same kind of hierarchy for each.

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