Microsoft Word How-to: Using Templates

content logoWord templates, often mentioned yet seldom utilized, a true time saving weapon that every computer warrior needs to have in their arsenal. You have to think about 'time saving' exercises within the context of the task itself. If you have a task on which you spend, say, 1 hour per year, it hardly seems worthwhile to invest in a time saving exercise for that task that will itself take several hours to undertake.

On the other hand, there are some tasks which we do repetitively and consistently, on which a time saving exercise can be incredibly worthwhile, even if you need to invest some time initially to set them up. If you can save even a few seconds on these types of tasks every time they are undertaken you may finally be able to have enough time to kick back and enjoy that Starbucks Marble Mocha Macchiato you've been thirsting for. Word templates are just such a time saving weapon, and the good news is that they take hardly any investment in time to get set up in the first place.

The examples shown here use Word 2003 running on Windows XP. Different versions of Word running on different operating systems may be slightly different that what is shown here, however the usage of templates in Word has been very consistent over the last few versions, and the functionality should be very close to the same as shown.

The typical workflow for creating and then using a template in Word goes something like this:

  • Create (or open) a word document that you would like to use as a template for future documents. You would typically add your header and footer, maybe an auto date and a salutation field, and any other items that you find yourself repeating when creating that type of document.
  • Save that document as a template, with a .dot extension.
  • The next time you want to create a document based on that template, you will open the .dot template.
  • Save it as a standard .doc document, leaving the template unchanged and ready for the next time.

I'm going to use a common task and set up a simple company letterhead as a template. I've started by creating a very simple sample letterhead in Word the same way I would create any normal Word document. Now, instead of saving it as a standard word document I'm going to tell Word that I want to save it as a template. To do this, after I select save I'm going to name the document 'Symplebyte_letterhead', then I'm going to change the Save as Type: field to Document Template (*.dot):


word template 01


As soon as I select 'Save as Type: Document Template' from the drop down list a couple of things are going to happen. First of all, Word is going to automatically change the location for saving the document to the default location for your Word templates. The typical location for these templates in your average Windows XP installation will be

C:\Documents and Settings\[your user name]\Application data\Microsoft\Templates\

In addition I can see a couple of files which reflect the default template for Word, called '' (the one with the tilde and dollar sign in front of it (~$) is the temporary file that Word creates when I open a new document (yours may look different depending on your installation and regional settings):


word template 02


Now, there is no point in trying to save time if you're not going to stay organized. You may find, after you start doing this, that you end up with a multitude of templates that you use for a wide variety of purposes. Try to start out thinking about the future and how things may get out of hand if you put all of these templates in the same place. To alleviate that I'm going to create a new sub-folder here in this location called 'Symplebyte', into which I will put the templates I plan on using for the company:


word template 03


Click OK to create the folder, then click Save to save the template in the new location, then close the template. That takes care of the first part.

Now, in order to get access to this template I will need to create a new document based on that template. If I just open up a new document by selecting the 'New Blank Document' icon from the main toolbar:


word template 04


I will get a document that is based on the '' template. In most cases that's just fine, but it is not what I want here. In order to get access to the template I just created I need to select 'File -> New' from the main menu:


word template 05


When I do this the New Document Task Pane will open on the right side of the document window. From here I can select from a variety of new documents, or I can create one based on a template. In this case I'm going to be using the template I created earlier, so I'm going to select Templates, 'On My Computer...' from the list:


word template 06


This will bring up a dialog box that will allow me to choose which template that I want to use. There are a couple of things I need to take notice of in this box. First, I need to choose whether I want to create a new document or open the template. If I want to create a new document based on the template I created earlier I will just leave 'Document' selected. If I want to make changes to the actual template I will need to select the 'Template' option. The other thing to notice here is that Word has created a tab for the folder 'Symplebyte' we created at the beginning of the exercise. How cool is that?


word template 07


Each new folder you create in the template directory will create a matching tab in the 'Templates' dialog box. This is a terrific way to keep your templates organized. I'm going to select the 'Symplebyte' tab, which will then give me access to the template I saved in the folder earlier. I select the template, then click on OK:


word template 08


Which gives me a brand new Word document, based on the template that I created earlier:


word template 09


Not bad, eh? Think of all of the documents you currently have saved, that you pull up, then do a save as, then delete the old content in order to try to get to a blank document. Save it as a template, keep it organized, and you'll be sipping that Marble Mocha Macchiato in no time!

Additional resources

  • Check out the free templates (of all kinds) available at Microsoft