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Creating Business Forms Using Word's Table Feature

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Inside Microsoft Word

A Publication of The Cobb Group

Published March 1997

If you need to set up a business form, such as a purchase order or invoice, you may think the task is too unwieldy for a word processor and simply turn everything over to a print shop or to a colleague with a page layout program. Think again. Although creating a business form is complex, Word's layout capabilities and automation features make the process much easier­and a lot less intimidating­than you might imagine.

To show you how to create forms in Word, we'll cover the topic in installments over the next few months. We'll begin this month by looking at how Word's table feature allows you to set up a form framework and use borders and shading to set off different form components, as the sample purchase order in Figure A shows. (If you use one of Word's "prefab" forms, you may have a head start on this part of the process, but these skills will serve you well if you need to create a custom form from scratch.)

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Figure A: We'll use this sample purchase order to demonstrate some basic form design techniques.
On This Page

Form design overview
An example
Notes

Form design overview

Like any construction project, creating a form requires planning as well as execution. So before you drag out the hammer and nails, you should have a pretty good idea of how you want the form to look. You may be trying to duplicate an existing form­perhaps a mimeographed descendant of an ancient invoice that your company has used for generations. In that case, you already have a pattern to follow. But if you're starting from square one, you'll probably want to sketch the desired results beforehand. That way, you can visualize exactly how many rows and columns you need, where the borders should go, and so forth.

In addition to taking into account the practical aspects of laying out your form, you'll want to consider its visual appeal. In many cases, this will just be a matter of restraint­don't get carried away with borders, don't use five typefaces, and don't go crazy with Word's shading feature. You may want to consult some design books for ideas on how best to arrange the form components, when to use features such as shading, and so on.

Even if you're armed with a brilliantly conceived and visually enchanting blueprint, you'll probably modify your form here and there once you see it onscreen. As you work on the form, you can take advantage of a couple of tools to help you visualize the finished product. First, you can hide gridlines periodically (although you'll probably want to do most of your work with gridlines showing). By hiding gridlines, you can see your form as it will print. Second, selecting the Whole Page option on Word's Zoom Control dropdown list in page layout view will give you a bird's-eye view of the entire page while allowing you to format and edit various elements of your form.

That takes care of the preliminaries. Let's move on now to the mechanics of form creation. Since the key to building the various components of a form is Word's table feature, we'll start by covering some table basics. If you're well versed in table techniques, you may want to skip ahead to the example.

Creating tables

You can build a form from several individual tables or insert a single table and use borders to define areas within it. Either way, you need to know how to create a table.

Word offers a couple of methods for doing this. One way is to click the Insert Table button () on the Standard toolbar and drag across the desired number of rows and columns on the graphical table grid. When you release the mouse button, Word will insert the specified table into your document.

Alternatively, you can choose Insert Table from the Table menu, enter the number of rows and columns (and optionally, the width of the columns) in the Insert Table dialog box, and click OK. (You can also click Wizard in the Insert Table dialog box and let Word lead you through the table setup process or you can click AutoFormat and select one of Word's preset table formatting schemes.)

As we mentioned, it's helpful if gridlines are visible (to turn them on, you just select Gridlines from the Table menu). Otherwise, you won't be able to see the table when you enter it into your document. The gridlines are simply dotted lines that delineate your table's rows and columns. (Remember, gridlines don't print. You'll have to apply borders to create lines and boxed areas for your form.)

Changing column width

After you enter a table into your document, you can adjust the width of one or more columns (if necessary). Once again, there are several ways to accomplish this. First, you can position the mouse pointer along the edge of a column so that the pointer changes to the table column pointer. When you click and hold down the mouse button, Word will display a gray line indicating the column boundary. Just drag this line to the desired width. If you prefer, you can adjust a column by dragging its column marker () on the ruler.

If you don't want to rely on either of the dragging techniques, you can size a column by positioning the insertion point marker within that column and choosing Cell Height and Width from the Table menu. In the Cell Height and Width dialog box, click the Column tab to display the options shown in Figure B.

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Figure B: You use this tab to set column width

In this tab, you enter the desired settings for the current column (or columns, if you highlight more than one). You can use the Previous Column and Next Column buttons to adjust the width of other columns if you want.

Adjusting row height

Row height can also play an important role in the appearance of your forms. By default, Word applies the Auto setting to table rows. This means that Word will expand the height of a row to accommodate its contents. For most online forms (particularly if you use form fields to control the amount of information entered), the Auto setting is fine. However, if you want to ensure that a block of information appears with a fixed height, you can apply an absolute setting.

To do this, first highlight the row (or rows) you want to format. Then, choose Cell Height and Width from the Table menu (or right-click the selected area and choose the command from the shortcut menu). Once you've opened the Cell Height and Width dialog box, click the Row tab, shown in Figure C.

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Figure C: These options let you specify row height.

Select Exactly from the Height of Row dropdown list. Then, enter the appropriate setting in the At text box. When you click OK, Word will adjust the row height to reflect the new setting.

When you use the Exactly setting to specify row height, bear in mind that the row won't expand if its contents exceed the row height. Word will simply cut off the display of the text at the bottom of the row. If you want to set a minimum row height (one that will begin at the indicated height but expand if necessary), you need to select At Least rather than Exactly from the Height of Row dropdown list.

Adding and deleting rows and columns

If you decide you need more (or fewer) rows and/or columns in a table once you've created it, you can easily make the necessary adjustments. To add a row to the bottom of the table, position the insertion point marker in the last cell of the last row and press [Tab]. To add a row anywhere else, highlight the row above which you want to insert the new row. Then, just click the Insert Table button. Word will insert a row with the formatting specifications of the highlighted row. You can insert multiple rows by highlighting the same number of rows you want to add and then clicking the Insert Table button.

To delete one or more rows, simply highlight the row(s) you want to remove and click the Cut button (). Alternatively, you can choose Delete Rows from the right-click shortcut menu or the Table menu.

To add a column to the right side of the table, first highlight the column of end-of-row markers that runs along the outside of the table. Then, click the Insert Table button. To add a column elsewhere in the table, just highlight the column to the left of where you want to insert the new column and click the Insert Table button. Again, the new column will have the formatting of the highlighted column. To insert multiple columns, just select the desired number of columns before clicking the Insert Table button.

You can delete columns just as you do rows. Simply highlight the column(s) you want to remove and then click the Cut button or choose Delete Columns from the right-click shortcut menu or the Table menu.

Merging and splitting cells

You may rely on a couple of additional tricks when you set up your forms. First, you can merge two or more cells in order to create wide areas. To merge cells, highlight the cells you want to combine and choose Merge Cells from the Table menu. Word will create one large cell, equal to the combined widths of the cells you merged.

Second, you can easily divide a cell into any number of smaller cells. Just highlight the cell and choose Split Cells from the Table menu. Word will present the dialog box shown in Figure D.

Figure D: When you choose Split Cells, Word will display this dialog box.

Figure D: When you choose Split Cells, Word will display this dialog box.

In the Number of Columns text box, enter the number of cells you want to create from the selected cell. For instance, to divide a cell into seven cells, enter 7 in the Number of Columns text box. When you click OK, Word will evenly divide the selected cell into seven new cells.

Bordering and shading cells

Once you've created the basic row-and-column framework, you can apply borders and shading to produce lines and blocks within the form. You can do this by using the Borders and Shading dialog box or by using the Borders toolbar. Unless you want to specify color or create a shadow border (both of which require you to use the Borders and Shading dialog box), the toolbar approach is probably the most efficient.

To display the Borders toolbar, just click the Borders button () on the Formatting toolbar. Then, highlight the area of the table you want to format and click the appropriate button(s). You can specify the width and style of the borders by selecting an option from the Line Style dropdown list. After you specify a line style, you can click a button that tells Word where to apply the specified border. For example, to apply a 3-point outside border to a block of cells, highlight the cells, select 3 pt from the Line Style dropdown list, and click the Outside Border button (). You can also use the Borders toolbar to shade a table section by highlighting that section and choosing the desired percentage (or pattern) from the Shading dropdown list.

An example

Let's put some of these table techniques to work by creating the sample purchase order shown in Figure A. Begin by opening a new document and typing the company information (name, address, phone number) at the top. You can make this text as fancy or as plain as you choose. You can even insert a logo or some other type of graphic if you want.

After you insert the company information, press [Enter] twice, type Purchase Order, and press [Enter] again. Highlight the heading Purchase Order and apply the desired formatting. (We used 20-point Times New Roman bold italic.)

Now you can enter the table that serves as the form part of the purchase order. First, position the insertion point marker in the paragraph below the Purchase Order heading. Next, click the Insert Table button and drag across the table grid to specify eight rows and four columns. When you release the mouse button, Word will insert the table into your document, as Figure E shows.

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Figure E: Your form will look like this after you enter the table.

As you can see, we have a pretty long way to go. Let's start by adjusting the column widths. To do this, highlight the first column and choose Cell Height and Width from the Table menu. In the Width of Column 1 text box, enter 1. Click Next Column and enter 2.5 in the Width of Column 2 text box. Click Next Column again and enter 1.25 in the Width of Column 3 text box. Finally, click Next Column, enter 1.25 in the Width of Column 4 text box, and click OK.

That takes care of all the formatting we can apply to the whole table. From now on, we'll have to work with individual table components. To make sure we don't lose our bearings, we'll work our way down the table a few rows at a time, applying the necessary formatting and entering text for each area of the form.

For starters, select the first two cells in the first two rows, as Figure F shows.

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Figure F: To format the first part of the form, start by selecting these cells.

Then, choose Merge Cells from the Table menu to combine the selected cells. Now, select the last two cells in the first two rows and choose Merge Cells again (or choose Repeat Merge Cells from the Edit menu). Figure G shows the result.

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Figure G: When you choose Merge Cells, Word will combine the selected cells to create wider areas.

After you've merged the cells, type the appropriate heading (P.O. Number, Date, and so on) in each one. Then, format the headings as 12-point Times New Roman bold. The final task for this section is applying the border. Begin by clicking the Borders button to display the Borders toolbar. Then, highlight both rows and choose 3/4 pt from the Line Style dropdown list. Now, click the Inside Border button () to border each cell in the selection and click the Outside Border button to place a border around the perimeter of the selection.

To format the second section of the form, begin by skipping a row. We'll leave this row unbordered so it will be invisible and separate visually the first and second sections of the form. Position the insertion point marker in the fourth row and type the headings (Quantity, Description, Price, and Total). Format the headings as you did in the first section (12-point Times New Roman bold). We'll leave the row unbordered for the moment­we can border it and the next row in one step.

To create the middle section of the form, begin by highlighting the fifth row. (Once we've formatted this row satisfactorily, we'll use the Insert Table button to create nine rows just like it.) To ensure that our rows are uniform, we'll set an absolute row height. To do this, choose Cell Height and Width from the Table menu. In the Cell Height and Width dialog box, click the Row tab. Then, select Exactly from the Height of Row 5 dropdown list, enter 3li in the At text box, and click OK to return to the table. Now, extend the highlight so that it includes this row and the one above it and click the Inside Border button on the Borders toolbar. Then, click the Outside Border button.

To create the additional nine "order" rows in our sample form, highlight the fifth row (the one with the absolute row height) and click the Insert Table button nine times. Figure H shows how the table will look at this point.

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Figure H: The form will look like this after you create the middle section.

(We switched to page layout view and selected Whole Page from the Zoom Control dropdown list to reduce the display size.) Hang in there--just one more section to go!

To format the areas that will contain subtotal, tax, and total information, highlight just the last two cells in the last three rows, as Figure I shows.

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Figure I: To create the "totals" section of the form, first highlight these cells.

To set off the section, we'll border and shade it. First, apply a grid border by clicking the Inside Border and Outside Border buttons. Then, choose 5% from the Shading dropdown list. Finally, type the headings and apply 12-point Times New Roman bold formatting.

Figure J shows the completed form.

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Figure J: We selected Whole Page from the Zoom Control dropdown list and turned off gridlines and nonprinting characters to see how the finished form will appear when printed.

As before, we've used the Whole Page option to get a better idea of the form's appearance. We also deselected the Gridlines command on the Table menu and turned off the display of nonprinting characters (by clicking the Show/Hide | button () on the Standard toolbar) to more accurately represent the finished product.

Notes

For the sake of clarity, we moved through our table in a more-or-less linear fashion, dealing with one section at a time. But you may find more efficient ways to apply the various text formats and borders your form requires. For instance, you might apply all the borders, enter all the text, and then select all the text and format it in one step.

As you gain experience in creating forms, you'll probably discover other shortcuts. For example, you may prefer to let Word's table wizard and/or AutoFormat feature handle most or all of the formatting for you. Styles can save you time if your forms contain different text formats. And Word's AutoText feature is a good way to store table components you may want to incorporate in all the forms you create.

Now that we've covered the basics of using Word's table feature to design forms, we'll turn our attention to Word's form-specific features. Next month, we'll see how you can use form fields to simplify the process of entering data.

The article entitled "Creating Business Forms Using Word's Table Feature" was originally published in Inside Microsoft Word, March 1997. Copyright © 1997, The Cobb Group, 9420 Bunson Parkway, Louisville, KY 40220. All rights reserved. For subscription information, call the Cobb Group at 1-800-223-8720.

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