How to use, modify, and create templates in Word

Plus, creating custom interactive templates for special projects

microsoft word logo primary resized
Rob Schultz/IDG

In Microsoft Word, templates are pre-designed documents that you or someone else (such as Microsoft) creates to use as a pattern for a project. The template could be for a business card, brochure, resume, presentation...the list goes on. Regardless of the purpose, templates provide the design consistency that any organization (or individual) needs to look professional. (You can also find templates for Excel, PowerPoint, and other applications, but in this article we’re focusing on Microsoft Word.) 

The template contains a specific layout, style, design and, sometimes, fields and text that are common to every use of that template. Some templates are so complete (such as business cards), you only have to change the individual’s name, phone number, and email address. Others, such as business reports or brochures, could require that everything is changed except the layout and design. 

Once you create a template, you can use it over and over. Remember that while you open a template to start a project, you save the project as another file type, such as the basic .docx Word format, for editing, sharing, printing, and more. The template file stays the same, unless or until you want to change it (more on that later). 

01 sample templates JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

This is a sample template in Microsoft Word.

How to access Microsoft Word’s stock templates

Fortunately for us, Microsoft provides many hundreds of templates for all of its programs. Note that most of Microsoft’s templates are online, which means you cannot access them unless you’re connected to the Internet.

To open one of the system-provided templates in Word:

1. Open Microsoft Word and select New.

2. Peruse the Suggested Search categories: Business, Personal, Industry, Design Sets, Events, Education, or Letters. For this exercise, select Business.

3. Word displays a message that says, “Searching thousands of online templates.”

4. Word displays template search results on-screen, plus a comprehensive list of categories in a scrolling panel on the right.

5. Scroll down the page or choose a different category, then select a template that fits your current project.

02 select new category JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Select a template from a category, then start filling in your own data and images. 

We selected the Internet Café template. Notice the photos, graphics, and main information, such as hours, are already created in the template. You only have to type over the existing data with your company’s data, and the brochure is complete. 

How to modify a Microsoft Word template

You can change the colors, font, photos, logo, and anything else on this template. If you have not selected the Internet Café brochure, please do so now. Before you make any changes, go ahead and save this template with a new filename.

1. If you follow normal document-saving procedures (and you can here), you select File > Save As > Computer > Browse. Then navigate to the applicable folder and give the template a new name.

2. Remember that once you click the down arrow beside the Save As Type in the input box and select Word Template (*.dotx) from the list (and change the name, of course, in the File Name input box), Microsoft automatically puts the file in its own template folder.

3. Once saved as a template, close the file.

4. Now open it again. Note that it is not in the folder you specified. Don’t panic. Navigate to C:\Users\owner\Documents\Custom Office Templates and your custom templates are there. Select the one you just saved from the list and open it.

03 save the document as a template JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Save the document as a template.

5. Change the sections on the new template that will be on every brochure, such as the logo, or contact information. Then save it as a template again by pressing Ctrl+ S. It will save in the same location.

6. Next, fill in all the other information and save it—this time, as a document, so you can print it out or share it with others.

Whenever you’re ready to create a new brochure, just open the template, enter the new data, and save the completed brochure as a document.

04 internet caf template modifiedsaved as a document brochure JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

This Internet Café template has been modified and saved as a document brochure.

How to create your own custom templates in Word

Custom templates can be as simple or complex as needed. For example, you might create a template for your company’s newsletter, posters for a seminar, or invitations for corporate events. You can also create interactive templates to load on the Intranet, so others can fill in the blanks to print their own envelopes and letterhead, for instance.

First, create a document—design and format it, add graphics and photos. If it’s interactive, select Controls from the Developer tab and create custom input fields for user interaction.

For this exercise, create an announcement flyer for a Meet & Greet conference including lunch, cocktails, and dinner for the company’s senior management and its new interns.

1. Start with a blank document.

2. Create two columns: The left is 4.5 inches and the right is 2.5 inches, and the space between the columns is about 3/8 of an inch. These measurements are only suggestions. Adjust as necessary for your project and the images and graphics you choose.

3. Add a title.

4. Choose a font (we’re choosing Century Gothic), style (sans serif), and color (white), for that title.

5. Repeat this process for a subtitle. In our example, we’re changing the font color to dark teal.

6. Create some graphic boxes for the title (dark teal) and the subtitle (light teal). Select Insert > Shapes and choose a rectangle from the icon list.

7. Insert an applicable photo in both columns. Choose Insert > Pictures and select photos from your Pictures Library. Adding images gives you an opportunity to eyeball image sizes and column widths and adjust them as needed.

8. Enter the schedule and agenda in column one. Use Century Gothic 14 (in black) for the body text and Century Gothic 18 (in dark teal) for the headers.

9. Enter the time and place plus the conference hosts in column two, with the same fonts and colors for the body text and headers.

05 create a custom event template JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Create a custom event template.

10. Once satisfied with the final product, click Save As > Meet+Greet.docx (a regular Word document), so you can share or print.

11. Before you exit, also save this document as a template. Click Save As > Save As Type, choose Word Template [*.dotx] from the list, and save as Meet+Greet.dotx. Next conference, the template is ready to get you started.

Once you have some custom templates in your Custom Office Templates folder, when you open Word and select New, Word provides a new category on the backstage menu called Personal. Click this category to see and open your saved templates.

06 open your custom template under new personal JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Open your custom template under New > Personal.

How to add an interactive component to a template

Some templates use interactive controls for user input. For example, imagine that once a month, the branch managers, assistant managers, and loan originators of a large banking institution have a meeting at one of the 12 branches. It’s your assistant’s job to email the date, time, location, speakers, topics, and agenda to each attendee. Rather than have that person retype the data in a regular template, you can create a template where options can be chosen from a list. For example:

1. First, create the template, then decide which fields (date, time, etc.) can be selected from a list.

2. Click the Developer tab.

3. Position your cursor on the template where the date goes.

4. Select Insert > Text > Quick Parts > Field, then choose Date from the Categories panel and select a date format from the Properties panel. Click OK. Now the date will update automatically.

07 insert a date field that automatically updates JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Insert a date field that automatically updates.

5. Next, position your cursor on the template where the location goes.

6. Select Developer > Controls > Combo Box Content Control. Word places this item on your template.

7. With the Developer tab still selected, click Controls > Properties, and the Content Control Properties dialog window opens.

8. Click the Add button, enter a branch name in the Add Choice dialog box, then click OK. Repeat this process until all the branch locations are entered, then click OK again to close this dialog window.

08 create a combo box control so users can select options from a list JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Create a Combo Box Control so users can select options from a list.

9. If you want to modify, remove, or move an entry up or down, highlight the entry, then click the appropriate button.

10. You can change the color of the Combo Box frame and change or create a custom style (fonts, color, attributes, etc.) for the typeface used inside the Combo Box.

11. Repeat steps 5 through 8 above to create Combo Box Content Controls for the remaining fields: meeting date and time, speakers, and topics.

12. When finished, save the document as a Word Template (*.dotx).

Where to find the template files on your computer

The custom templates that you create or modify from one of Microsoft’s stock templates are stored at C:\Users\Owner\Documents\Custom Office Templates, where <Owner> is your login name. When you open the Users folder, you’ll see your login name on the list of folders. If not there, it should be in the folder that’s actually called Owner.

09 where the personal custom templates and the stock templates are located JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Where the personal custom templates and the stock templates are located

Microsoft stores its templates at:

C:\Users\<your login name>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates

Again, if you failed to create a unique login name, this folder may be called <Owner>. If you can’t find it, the AppData folder and all of its files and subfolders are hidden.

10 show hidden files and folders JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Show Hidden Files and Folders

To view the Hidden files:

  1. Select the Start/Windows button > Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization
  2. Select File Explorer Options/Folder Options > Show hidden files and folders
  3. On the next screen, check the tick mark beside Show hidden files, folders, and drives, then click Apply and OK.
11 two more ways to locate the stock templates folder JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Two more ways to locate the stock templates folder

To discover the actual name of the Templates folder:

  1. Select File > Options > Advanced
  2. Scroll about two-thirds of the way down the screen.
  3. Click the File Locations button, and the File Locations window appears.
  4. Word displays the locations and paths to all the template-related files.

You can also click the Start button, then copy and paste this: %appdata%\Microsoft\Templates in the Search box and press Enter. The Templates folder appears in the Start box. Double-click to go straight to the stock templates folder.

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