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#25-Creating Editable Forms in Microsoft Word

February 24, 2003


Have you ever had the need to provide documents/template for your students where they responded to a structured set of questions? This demo shows you how to create a “Microsoft Word Form,” where users can enter specific information in fields, select choices from drop-down menus, or indicate choices by check boxes.

LTA Credits

Alan Levine
Instructional Technology
Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction
Maricopa Community Colleges
Phoenix, Arizona


Some advantages of using this approach are:

  • No special software beyond Word required (but students will need access to Word)
  • The information returned is consistently formatted
  • The amount of text returned can be limited
  • Formatted numerical input (Date, time, decimal) can be created
  • With some elbow grease (and patience with the quirks of Word), spread-sheet like calculated fields can be created
  • The document can have portions locked from changes by the student
  • Students can save the document to their hard drive and go back at any time to finish theirr work. (PDF forms read in Acrobat Reader do not save content)
  • Students can save a copy of their document and/or e-mail it to an instructor

This LTA provides a way to create documents, assignments, report forms, etc for your students where it may be important to maintain some consistent format, or where there is a need for a structured response. The example provided in this demonstration is a simple version of what might be used as a group report form. In a typical assignment, an instructor may distribute in paper or electronic format, a list of required questions to answer, but when 30 students freely compose their responses, you end up with 30 different kinds of documents to read.

The other area where this is very useful is in creating electronic forms, so that rather than giving PDF files that people print and complete by hand (requring someone at the other end to convert handwriting back into text), the person completing the form can do so on a computer, send it electronically, and retain a copy of the form (one cannot do this all in PDF forms).

We have used this approach extensively in developing electronic forms for our faculty professional growth programs where we get hundreds of requests per year, and it has greatly simplified the data and form processing by committees (by unifying the returned documents), but it is also much easier for applicants to complete.

We also developed a more complex form used as the application for our internal grants program, using feautures to calculate budget sub-totals and totals using the Microsoft Word calculation fields.

LTA Level (User Requirements)

The LTA would require an instructor to have basic familiarity with composing documents in Microsoft Word, but the amount of Word expertise would depend on the needs of the document he/she intends to create. We provide the steps to use all of the Microsoft Word form creation fields. If one has some experience creating and editing tables in Word, more nicely designed forms may be created, but it can be as simpe as just converting an existing assignment with the questions already typed, adding the form fields for student input, and protecting the document with a password. Very low level of expertise, indeed!

LTA Outcomes

If an instructor already has many assignments in Word, it should not take long to convert them to these kinds of structured forms. The format is very flexible so it could be distributed to students by e-mail, via file servers, or included in course management systems.

Software Required

Microsoft Word, at least versions back to Word 97, seem to have this functionality. This feature is available for both Macintosh and Windows versions of Word. The steps described below are for Windows versions of Word.

LTA Procedures–Steps

  1. Create an approximate layout of the form, leaving room for the answer spaces. I use formatting borders (Format -> Borders and Shading…) to put boxes around these areas.
  2. Display the Forms Toolbar (View -> Toolbars -> Forms)
  3. Move the mouse to the location where an answerbox should be. Click the ab| icon on the Forms Tool palette to add a text form field (a place for someone to type text).
  4. When you have added all of the desired form fields, lock the document by going to Tools -gt; Protect Document… In the dialog box, click the radio button for Forms.

    Then enter a password and click OK. You will have to re-enter the password as a confirmation:

  5. Save the document. Keep the original in a safe place (in case you need to make changes) and make a copy of the document to try as a user might see it. Users should know that they can tab from field to field, print, email, and they can save the modified version of the document on their computer.

There are many more options on the Forms palette that allow you to limit the amount of text types, to format numbers and dates, etc. Check the Word docs for more on these topics.

Practice Creating a Word Form

In the following sections, we give you some step-by-step instructions for working with the Form creation tools of Microsoft Word. In this silly example, we are creating an assignment report form where students had investigated one of the planets in the solar system and made some decisions on what they would take to travel there.

  1. Open the template (“space_report_template.doc”). This is a formatted document that has the layout of the assignment report already created as Microsoft Word tables. Click on the link below to dowload the document to your computer.
  2. Create a text input field. Click in the white cell next to “name:” From the forms tool palette, Click the ab| icon. This inserts a text input field for the student’s name.
  3. Create a formatted text input field. Repeat step 2 for the next cell, to add another input field adjacent to “Today’s date.” Click the form field options icon in the form palette (fourth from the left with the little hand). This allows us to set some options for this input area. From the “Type” menu, select Date. From the Date format: menu, select a format type from the drop down menu. Then click Ok.
  4. Create a drop down menu. Click once in the cell next to the “Planet” label. Click the dropdown menu icon on the Forms palette (third from the left) to create the menu. Then click the Form-Filed options icon in the Forms palette (fourth from left) to edit the drop menu. You will need to type each entry in the Drop-down item field, then click Add >> to make it appear in the list. You should enter the following as drop-down menu items:
    • Select a Planet
    • Mercury
    • Venus
    • Mars
    • Jupiter
    • Saturn
    • Neptune
    • Uranus
    • Pluto

    And click OK when you are done:

  5. Create check box options. Click in front of each word in the cell adjacent to “Characteristics” and click the check box icon in the Forms palette. This will create options that can be checked on or off.
  6. Create a form field with limited length input. To restrict the amount of text entered into a form field, you can set the limit. The form will simply stop taking keyboard input when the limit is reached. Word counts the number of characters, so you have to make some guesses based on word lengths, etc. Click in the field adjacent to “Description of Surface,” and use the Forms palette to insert a text input field (see step 1). Then click the Form Fields option icon and in the Maximum Length Field, enter 300. Click Ok .
  7. Create a Text field with default text. Next to the “Strategy” label, insert a text input field as you have already done several times. Click the Form Fields options, and in the default text, write some content that you may want to appear in the form field when first viewed by the student.
  8. Create a Number Input Field for Calculated items. In the cell adjacent to the label “personnel” (under “Weight Budget”), create a text input field. Click the Form Field options to change the input type to Number. Under Number format, select 0 for whole numbers (no decimals). Under Field Settings, check the box labeled Calculate on exit so that when the cursor leaves this input field, the calculation total we will create will be updated. Create the same types of input fields for all the “weight budget items.” As a shortcut to setting the form field options for each one, highlight the form field created for “personnel,” select Copy from the Edit menu (or Ctrl-C), then click into each table cell you would like to insert a new input field, and select Paste from the Edit menu (or Ctrl-V).
  9. Create a Table Field Calculation. In the bottom row of our report form, we will create a field that sums the totals of the cells above it. Click once in the empty cell next to “Calculated Total,” and then select Formula… from the Table menu. In the Formula: field we need to tell Word which cells are to be totaled. This is a little tricky, and works like Excel where your table columns are identified left to right as “a,b,c,…” and the table rows are identified numbered top to bottom as “1,2,3…” Therefore, our numbers are in the second column (“b”), in rows 8 through 14. The Formula to enter is =SUM(b8:b14) and we choose a Number format of 0, and click OK.
  10. Test the form. If you click the lock icon on the far right side of the forms palette, the form is activated as a student might use it and you can test your efforts. Click the lock again to return to editing mode. (To clear any entered form content, click unlock-lock-unlock.) Note that this does not truly lock the form as anyone with access to the Form palette can open it up.
  11. Put a password protection on the form. When you have added all of the desired form fields, lock the document by going to Tools -> Protect Document… In the dialog box, click the radio button for Forms:

You may compare your work to this completed version of the file:


Additional Resources

All of these documents, instructions, and templates are available at the Maricopa Learning eXchange:




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