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Storing Extra Details About Your Documents

Windows XP keeps track of a few essential details about each file: its size, when it was created, and when you last modified it, for example. You can see all these standard details when you open Windows Explorer. So what happens when you save a document using an Office program? You get the option to store extra details called properties; these include the author’s name, a title and a subject for the file, and comments or keywords that you can use to search for documents later. If you’re an obsessive organizer, you can open a Custom properties sheet for any document and keep track of more than two dozen built-in categories or add your own.

Some properties are filled in automatically by Office, but to really take advantage of this feature you need to go a little bit out of your way and fill in extra details for every document you work with. Why should you bother?

  • It helps you find stuff later—When you use the Advanced File Search task pane in Office or a third-party search tool, you can search for any property of any Office file. If you’ve trained an entire department to enter details about a client, project, or product line in the Properties dialog box (or if you’ve automated this process with macros), it’s trivially easy to locate all the files associated with that activity.
  • It helps you keep projects organized—In Windows Explorer’s Details view, you can add columns for many Office file properties. For example, in a folder filled with Word documents, right-click any column heading to display a list of available columns, and then click Title and Author to add those fields to the display. That way, you can scan through a list and see more than just the file name.
  • It lets you reuse data—You can look up file properties in any document and then use those values in fields and in macros that you create by using Visual Basic for Applications. Using fields, you can automatically fill in data within a document based on the values you enter in the properties dialog box. You can also create AutoNew macros that prompt you for key information every time you create a new document based on a particular Word template. You can then use that information to file the document when you save it.

→ For more ideas and techniques using VBA, see Chapter 26, "Using Macros to Automate Office Tasks."

To view and edit the properties of a file currently open in an Office program, choose File, Properties. The dialog box that appears resembles the one in Figure 3.5.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 The Properties dialog box displays summary information about Office file types.

The Properties dialog box for an Office file includes the five tabs described in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1 Office File Properties




Basic information from the Windows file system: name, location, size, and so on.


Information about the current file and its author, including fields for company name, category, and keywords. The Comments field is particularly useful because the comment text appears in the status bar at the bottom of any Windows Explorer window when you select the saved file. It also appears in the ScreenTips that appear when you hover the mouse pointer over a file name in Windows Explorer.


Details about the size and structure of the file, such as the number of words in a document or the number of slides in a presentation; also displays revision statistics and total editing time. This tab is not visible when inspecting file properties from within Windows Explorer; instead, the information is displayed on the Advanced view of the Summary tab. This information is frequently incorrect, especially when you inspect it from within an Explorer window. If you rely on these statistics to stay within a specific word count when working on a homework assignment, always inspect them from within the document itself to guarantee that the information is up to date.


The parts of the file, such as the outline of a Word document, based on heading styles; worksheet titles in an Excel workbook; or slide titles in a PowerPoint presentation. This tab is not visible when inspecting file properties from within Windows Explorer.


Twenty-seven built-in fields that are useful when creating business documents, including Client, Document Number, and Date Completed. In addition, you can enter a field of your own creation, such as the name of a class or a teacher. Custom fields can contain text, dates, numbers, or Yes/No information; they can also be linked to Word bookmarks, named Excel ranges, or PowerPoint text selections.

For simple projects, you might choose to ignore file properties and just give each document a descriptive filename that tells you everything you need to know about the file. For more complicated documents, however, adding file details—including keywords and categories—can help you quickly find a group of related data files, even months or years after you last worked with them. Use the Comments box to add freeform notes about a given file.

To enter additional details about an Office file, you must open the Properties dialog box, fill in the appropriate fields, and then save the file. If you use this feature regularly, you can configure Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to display the File Properties dialog box every time you save a file.

→ To learn more about the common features found within the Office applications, see "Configuring Common Office Features."

Default Document Properties

If you just click the Save button without entering any additional data, Office programs save only a few document properties along with the saved file. Windows stores the standard file details, of course, including the name and size of the file as well as the date and time the file was modified. All Office programs add your name and your organization’s name (using whatever name the program finds on the User Information tab of the Options dialog box) in the Author and Company fields, respectively. Word and PowerPoint fill in the Title field as well, using the first few words of a Word document or the title of a PowerPoint presentation.

If you want to add categories, keywords, or comments to any Office file, do so on the Summary tab.

Using Custom Properties to Organize Files

Custom properties make it easier to keep track of files in an office environment where many people create and share files. In a legal office, for example, you might use the Client, Status, and Recorded Date fields to track the progress of Word documents. Members of a team producing budget worksheets might use the Checked By and Forward To fields as part of a document management system. Use the Office applications’ Search task panes to find files whose properties match a particular set of criteria. Figure 3.6 shows a Word document that includes several custom properties.

To enter custom criteria for any Office file, follow these steps:

  1. Open the file and choose File, Properties.

  2. Click the Custom tab to display the dialog box shown previously in Figure 3.6.

  3. Choose a field from the Name list. To create a new field, type its name here.

  4. Choose one of the available data types from the Type drop-down list.

  5. Type the data for the selected field in the Value text box.

  6. Figure 3.6

    Figure 3.6 Record additional file properties on the Custom tab; later, use the Find tool in Office common dialog boxes to search for files that match these criteria.

  7. Click Add. The new entry appears in the Properties list at the bottom of the dialog box.

  8. Repeat steps 3–6 for any additional custom fields. To remove an item from the Properties list, select its entry and click Delete. Click OK to close the dialog box and return to the program window.

The Link to Content check box is grayed out and unavailable unless you’re working with a Word document that contains bookmarks, an Excel workbook that contains named ranges, or a PowerPoint presentation containing linked text. In any of those cases, you can enter a custom field name, select the Link to Content check box, and then choose the bookmark or named range. In a PowerPoint presentation, you must select the text you want to link to a custom field before opening the Properties dialog box.

Using Windows Explorer to View File Properties

To view any Office file’s properties without opening the file itself, open a Windows Explorer window, right-click the file’s icon, and then choose Properties. In most Windows versions, you can edit most file properties for Word documents, Excel workbooks, Publisher publications, and PowerPoint presentations directly from an Explorer window. Regardless of which Windows version you use, only the most basic summary information is available when you view the properties of an Access database from an Explorer window.

In Windows XP, you can see some Office file properties, such as the author’s name, in the info pane along the left side of a Windows Explorer window, as shown in Figure 3.7. You can also see a thumbnail of the file itself in this region, but only if you selected the Save Preview Picture check box on the Summary tab of the Properties dialog box. By default, this check box is cleared for Word documents and Excel workbooks and is selected for PowerPoint presentations.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 In Windows XP, you can view some information drawn from an Office file’s properties from within Windows Explorer. The thumbnail preview is available only if you check an option when saving the file.

To save a preview of an Excel workbook, you must check this box when you first save the file; see "No Preview in Common Dialog Boxes" in the "Troubleshooting" section at the end of this chapter for more details.

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