Creating a Template (Part II)

Article contributed by John McGhie

Word version of this article downloadable here

This article can be downloaded as a Word document plus its template. If you save them to the same directory as each other, the document will retain its link to the template. The downloadable zip file is 75k.

As well as being more printer-friendly than the web version, the document and template also allow you to see the principles preached in this article being put into practice.

See also Creating a Template – The Basics (Part I)

Using Templates

A template is a repository for things you want to use frequently and for complex things that you want to do only once. In normal use, this means Layouts, Styles, Tool Bars, AutoText Entries and Macros.

This article tells you how to create a template to produce a software manual.  That's because:

  • That is what I do for a living so I will know what I am talking about (sort of…);
  • Such a template contains all the things you will need to produce any other kind of document;
  • I happen to have one lying around here that I can give you to download;
  • It's the template I used to produce this document, so you can download an example as well.

Mine is set up for metric A4 paper. If you change the paper size, you will have to change everything (and I mean everything) else as well. Sorry about that.

I am going to give all dimensions in metric units (except font sizes!). You may want to change your settings to metric now. That way you can use the dimensions I specify. At the end, you can change back to Imperial if you wish, and Word will convert everything into that measure for you. To do this got to Tools>Options>General and set Measurement Units to Centimetres.

Technical writers love to specify commands and dialog boxes very precisely; and even show you a screen shot of the dialog box. I can't do that here because I am writing to cover nine versions of Word. This was actually written on a beta version of Word 2004. If you work with me, you will find everything I mention in Word 6, Word 95, Word 97, Word 98, Word 2000, Word X, Word XP (Word 2002), Word 2003 and Word 2004. You may have to look for some things: things move around in the user interface from version to version.

I guess we should recognise that according to Microsoft's research, normal users do not use or even know about templates. When Word comes out of the box, it is set up to cater for users who do not understand word processing.

Word is set up to enable the simplest fastest way to produce a document if you have no idea of what you want or what you are doing. If you were in that state, you wouldn't be reading this. So this article assumes you are in a workplace, where you adhere to a Style Guide and a Formatting Specification. A Template is the repository that stores all the specifications and choices that implement your Style Guide and Formatting Specification.

It's also the place where you put all the things you use that are fiddly to create or required to conform exactly to specification.

Always change formatting with Format>Style. I may sometimes forget to say so, in which case please remember it for me! There is only one time in this whole exercise that you can apply direct formatting. Anywhere else, it's a total waste of time: remember: for most users, the only thing they can ever access in a template is the styles. If the settings are not in the styles, they're pointless.

By the end of this exercise, you will realise that Word's default settings are all designed for the knee-cap-level user, and that we have to spend a lot of time undoing them. {Begin Political Rant} I hereby give you permission to think unkindly of the Product Marketing Department, which took the world's finest word processor and ruined it in order to reinforce the misconceptions of people who should not be left unsupervised with a pencil!!! {end political rant}. 

Creating a Template

So: start Word, allow the default blank document to load, and choose File>Save As. Change the Save as Type box to Document Template (.dot).

This is where Microsoft gives new users their first hint that they're getting in too deep. As soon as you change the Type to Template, you are dumped into your User Templates folder (although you can then change the path if you want to). There are good reasons for this. The first is that Word needs to know where this thing is so it can offer it to you when you need it; the second is that in this location word can take extra care that macro viruses do not try to add anything nasty to it.

At the moment, the document is still a copy of your template. Give it a file name and save it. Make the file name long and descriptive. It doesn't matter that it is long: you will never have to type it. You will do yourself a favour if you follow some kind of naming convention. I suggest <Company Name> A4 Adding your company name is really nice when you come to deal with a lot of templates. Specifying the paper size is goodness too: you are likely to end up with a series of templates for different paper sizes: it's nice to keep them together. You do not have to type the .dot bit: Word will add it for you.

So far, it appears that nothing has changed: you still appear to be looking at a copy of your (and you are). Behind the scenes, Word has made some critically important changes: the file now has a different internal structure, and it has gained extra objects to store things that documents cannot (or should not) contain.


Table of contents

File Properties/Printer

Paper size


Other things

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