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Fields in a Word Processor

Change Date Format   Re-using a Footer You've Made   Inserting a Word Count   Word Processors Are for Printed Documents

This is a glimpse at a couple of the things a word processor’s fields can do for you. A field is a place where you have left an instruction for the computer to insert the most up-to-date information about one particular thing.

In Word, to insert a field, click “Insert” on the menu bar and choose “Field”, which is usually the fifth item from the top.

You might insert some fields in the footer of a document, as follows. Insert FileName, hit the tab key, write “Page” and a space, insert Page, then type a space, “of” and another space, insert NumPages, hit the tab key again, and insert PrintDate.

The result of this would be that at the bottom of each page the computer would automatically print, for instance:

footer with fields inserted

(While you’re writing without having printed, PrintDate will read 0/0/00. Don’t worry; when you print the date will be inserted correctly.)

If you've filled out the document properties and given the document a title, you'd probably choose to insert Title rather than FileName. (Usually, the basics will have been automatically filled in on the Properties Sheet.)

footer with different fields inserted

Change Date Format

You can, of course, alter the format of the date, and include the time as well. Do this through the Insert > Date and Time dialogue, making sure that "insert as Field" is checked.

You might choose to have the date you began the document (CreateDate) rather than the date of printing. You can also use the font and size you want, just as with any other text.

Scroll down the list of fields. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of things available for you to have inserted automatically.

Re-using a Footer You've Made

Having done this once, you could highlight the whole thing and save it as an AutoCorrect entry. If the document in which you next use it is called “Flowering Shrubs,” that name will appear on the bottoms of the pages without your having changed anything.

If the choices of page numbering offered don’t include what you want, you can find out how to have a lot more control by reading the notes on Page Numbering by Bill Coan at mvps.org.

When inserting fields, uncheck the “preserve formatting” box. Otherwise, Word will keep replacing your formatting with its own.

To “update” a field, highlight it and hit F9. To change the field into once and forever text, highlight it, hold Control and Shift and hit F9.

This may be necessary if, for instance, you have a template or AutoCorrect entry with your address and the date for the top of a letter. The date will at first appear as the date when you saved the entry. When you highlight it and hit F9 it will change to the current date. Because you may wish to look back and see when you actually wrote—and presumably sent—the letter, you’d need to unlink the date by the ctrl + shift + F9 method to stop it from changing automatically ever again.

Inserting a Word Count

A useful field for a writer is NumWords. Writers are often asked to supply this when submitting manuscripts, and a field to keep track is more efficient than repeatedly checking in Tools > Word Count. If you type the first few words of a document and insert NumWords immediately after the last word, then put your insertion point immediately to the left of it and keep typing, it will move ahead of you down the page. Every time you highlight it—you can highlight it with a tap of the right arrow key— and hit F9 the number will update.

It doesn’t have to be in that particular position, of course. It will work anywhere in the document. It’s just so much easier if you don’t have to find it each time. Including it in the footer would work well, too.

Word Processors Are for Printed Documents

By the way, do remember that a word processor is for producing printed documents. Before attaching, say, a Word document to an email, ask yourself why it's necessary. If you only want the other person to see the words you've written, a text document—such as you might make in Notepad—is smaller and has all the needed information.

Besides, many people may not have the same version of, say, Word, as you do, and they may be unable to open your document at all. Here's how my copy of Word displayed a Word 2000 document that was sent to me. When I opened it in Open Office, I found that it consisted of 139 words.

Word 2000 document opened in Word 7

The Word 2000 document was 32 times the size of the text file into which I converted it!

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you. My email address is here.

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