Ever had one of those forms that repeats someone’s name or some other piece of information, um, repeatedly? Say, a will or a power of attorney or something similar?
If you’ve tried to make yourself a homegrown forms database, knowing that you’ll have to go in each time and fill in the variable information (name, he/she, his/her, son/daughter/children, etc.) in all (and I do mean all) the right places, then you can appreciate this reader’s dilemma:
I’m trying to create some forms for our estates and trusts attorney. She gave me a sample will, medical power of attorney, and some correspondence. There are several places in the will, where it will say, “I leave my sons…or my wife, Mary,” for example.
[I could] make all of those relationships fields, but I think that would be longer. As of now, all the paralegal has to do is do a find/replace and change all the sons, to daughters, or children, and wife to husband, etc. Making them all a field will mean that the assistant will have to retype the same word at least 23 times in a will. (That’s just making more work for her.)
Is there a way to autopopulate a field? I’d like it to work similar to Adobe [Acrobat], where if you give the fields the same name, the text in one will automatically fill up in all of the others. I’ve read something about making each field an REF field, but I don’t understand how to do it, and I’ve tried tons of Google search results. Can you help?
I’d always been interested in this question myself (since I’ve run into this problem with my own forms), but I just never took the time to really find a good solution. This reader gave me a good excuse to go digging around to find something that works.
There are a number of ways to approach this — I’ve heard of people using Mail Merge, ASK fields (which could be used in conjunction with the technique below), FILLIN fields, macros, etc. You can engineer the living daylights out of this if you’re so inclined. But this reader requested something that works like Adobe’s forms, where you can fill in one field and, if the field is duplicated elsewhere, those field copies will automatically repeat the same information (and self-update if the information in the original field changes). So I settled on Microsoft Word’s Bookmarks feature.
The good news here is you don’t have to be a propeller-head to pull this off. If you already know how to select text with your mouse and type, you can do this.
Navigate This Article
The preliminaries, or, setting yourself up to succeed
As with so many areas in Microsoft Word, some of this depends on how your installation is set up. You need to check three settings in Word Options (accessible via the File tab in Word 2010-2016 or the Office Button in Word 2007):
Making sure the fields auto-update when printing
In the Display Options, you’ll need to make sure that the fields will update themselves before you print the document; otherwise, you’ll have to remember to select them all and press F9. Really, why would you want to do that when Word will do it for you every time you print? Just make sure these boxes (highlighted below) are checked:
Making sure you can see your Bookmarks and Cross-references
If you’re going to be working with Bookmarks and their Cross-references, you need to be able to see them easily. Still in Word Options, but this time in the Advanced Options, make sure to check “Show bookmarks”, set the “Field shading” to Always, then scroll down to turn on “Allow fields containing tracked changes to update before printing”:
The Main Event, or, setting up your form document
Now that you’ve checked (and possibly corrected) your settings in Word Options, you can move on to your document.
Since wills are such a perfect example, I’m going to use a form will (severely truncated for illustration purposes, so this is not a valid legal document). The first piece of repeating data we’re going to tackle here is the testator’s name:
By my count, that’s five places where we need the Testator’s name. So our first step is to type it into the first place (in the title):
(Note: it looks like I typed that in ALL CAPS. I didn’t. I typed it as “John Doe,” but I let the Style called Heading 1 convert it to ALL CAPS for me. I did that so the name will appear in Title Case within the document.)
Then, we’ll go up to the title and select the text with our mouse or keyboard:
We’re going to make this text the Bookmark. On the Insert tab we’ll click Bookmark:
As you can see, we’ve named this Bookmark “Testator” (makes sense, huh?), then clicked Add to add it to the list.
To keep from having to type “John Doe” four more times, we’ll put a Cross-reference in the other four places that will pull that name from the Bookmark we created. So we go back to the Insert tab as show above and, this time, we click on Cross-reference (just below Bookmark) to get this dialog box:
And we can see our first Cross-reference automatically filled in the Testator’s name:
We could do the same with “wife/husband,” “he/she,” “him/her,” “son[s]/daughter[s]/children,” etc., but you get the idea, right?
If you want to try this technique, find a fairly simple form, save it as a template, and play with this a bit.
Notice, too, that because we opted to make the Bookmarks visible, it becomes obvious where to do data entry the next time we want to use the form to make a new document. Just keep it between the grey Bookmark brackets shown above, and everything will be fine.
When you print your document, the Cross-References will update, but if you want to force them to update before saving or just to check them during editing, just hit CTRL-A (that’s the Control key plus the letter A simultaneously) to select all of the text, then the F9 key to force all fields to update.
I bet you now have a million places to use this technique, and combined with features like Quick Parts, you can create a pretty sophisticated forms-and-boilerplate database of your own (without buying any extra software). Tell me what uses you’ll have for Bookmarks and Cross-References in the comments below!
Time-saving features like these will be featured in my upcoming Assemble Documents Faster Workshop. Interested in seeing this video series next time it's up? Get on the notification list by signing up below: