If you want to create a form, Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Sharepoint Designer are the best ways to go, but those are expensive pieces of software and depending on how many forms you need to create they may not be worth the investment. Thankfully, you can easily create forms in Word and restrict edits so that people will only be able to fill in the blanks instead of editing the rest of the document as well.
Enable the Developer tab
Before we can proceed, we need to enable the Developer tab in the Ribbon bar. To do this, click File on the Ribbon and then select Options.
You will be presented with the window below. Select Customize Ribbon and check the option Developer.
You will notice that a new entry named Developer has appeared in the far right of the ribbon bar, next to the View tab. Don’t be scared by its name: we won’t need to use any coding skills for creating simple forms. In the case of more complex ones, things may be different, but 90% of the times you’ll be fine even if you know no Visual Basic at all.
The Developer tab
The Developer tab contains a few additions that are indispensable for creating forms. Let’s see them briefly.
The Code section handles all advanced features of developer mode. Here, you can enter a Visual Basic for Applications environment if you want to have finer control over your form. You will need to use the Visual Basic programming language in order to take advantage of said advanced features. A good place to start is this page at the Office Dev Center. This very section also allows you to define and record macros, that is, a bunch of instructions that are executed one after the another. Macros are powerful tools, but are equally dangerous. By default, Office blocks the execution of all macros, even digitally-signed ones, for they are potential security risks.
The Add-ins section allows you to insert add-ins, small pieces of code written by experienced developers that introduce new functionality to Word, like the ability to create a newsletter, adding electronic signatures, and many more.
The Controls sections includes a number of extensions that can be inserted in the document and used to input and process data. You can add checkboxes, combo boxes, drop-down lists, and more. In this guide we’ll focus on this section. See the next paragraph for more information. Editing content controls can be toggled on or off by clicking the Design Mode button on the right.
The Mapping section allows you to insert information from an XML schema. From here, you can insert things like a small box containing the creator of the document, the abstract, and so on.
The Protect section is used to restrict edits. You’ll have to use this section once you’re done creating the form so that people that will fill it in won’t edit its content by accident. Note that this method is not very secure: a malicious user can still retrieve the password and unlock the document. If you have a Sharepoint Foundation server, you can encrypt the document for greater security, but most users will not have access to such technology. The Block Authors option is only available to users with a Sharepoint Foundation server that supports Workspaces.
The Templates section allows you to select a different document template for your form. In general, you’re fine with using the Normal.dotm template, but if your organization has its own template with, say, a custom heading or logo, you may choose that one as well.
The Controls section
As anticipated, we’ll use this section extensively. We’ll discuss briefly what each button does.
Rich Text Content Control inserts a field that can contain text, images, other content controls, and tables. Its name is a bit misleading, since the end user (i.e., the person who’s going to actually fill out the form) cannot edit its formatting or add bullet or numbered lists.
Plain Text Content Control is a more limited version of the previous content control. It only allows text to be inserted by the creator. No images, content controls, tables, or list can be inserted, even by the creator herself. Despite its name, it does not prevent formatting, but the entirety of its content will have the same formatting. The picture below shows the difference between the two types of content controls.
Picture Content Control defines an area where a picture can be inserted. This can be a logo, a photo, or anything else. This content control has a weird behaviour in that the creator cannot prevent the end user from resizing it. There is no real way to prevent the user from resizing the image, but there is one to prevent this from breaking the formatting on the rest of the document by inserting a picture content control inside a legacy frame with a fixed width and height. This way, even if the end user resizes the Picture Content Control, the formatting will be preserved.
Building Block Gallery Content Control inserts a content control that allows the user to fill it in with a preset quick part. These include, but are not limited to, the author’s name, the company name, the current date, bibliographies, title pages, and so on.
Check Box Content Control inserts a checkbox inside the current document. Despite its button’s appearance, the checkbox is actually a character that is changed whenever the user clicks on it. By default, the unckecked character is a square and the checked one a crossed square. The form creator may choose whatever character she wants. It’s highly recommended that said character belongs to the Webdings or Wingdings families of fonts.
Combo Box Content Control is used whenever the creator wants the person filling the form to choose from a combo box/drop-down list. New entries can be added by selecting the content control and selecting Properties from the right-click menu. The form requires at least one entry, although it makes sense to insert two or more to choose from.
The combo box differs from the standard drop-down box by the fact that it allows the user to type in the value they want, in addition to selecting it from the list.
A Drop-Down List Content Control is similar to a Combo Box Content Control, but as we anticipated above, it doesn’t allow typing-in values. The selection of an entry must be performed by clicking the arrow pointing down on the right of the content control and then selecting an entry. Choosing between the two is mostly a matter of personal choice, except when the creator wants to make sure the person who’s filling the form won’t insert a value she didn’t foresee others using. The Combo Box, in fact, does not prevent entering invalid values.
The Date Picker Content Control is pretty much what one would expect: it inserts a content control that allows the form filler to select a date. Choosing a Date Picker is preferable to inserting a text content control of any kind simply because the first allows for better fine-tuning of how the date will have to be formatted. The Date Picker’s properties allow to define what calendar to use, the locale and the format to be used. Despite its name, the Date Picker Content Control can also be used to insert times, although it’s very limited in this regard (clicking the arrow will bring up a calendar regardless of the creator’s intentions).
Repeating Section Content Control inserts a special type of content control that allows the person filling the form to insert multiple sequences of content controls, text, and pictures. It can be very useful when one wants to create a form with many sections with similar content. Since Word doesn’t allow toggling sections on or off on demand, this is the content control you want to use if you don’t want to insert many sections that will probably end up being empty.
The good thing about repeating sections is that they can be nested, so you can have a repeating section inside another, provided that the ends of the two are not next to each other. You can insert a white space or new line to work around this.
Repeating sections work slightly differently than other content controls: you need to create the text and/or content controls first, select the entire text you want to repeat, and only then insert a Repeating Section Content Control.
Legacy Tools is a section containing older types of content controls that were included in Word 2016 for backwards-compatibility only. Although some of them can be very useful, one should be wary of using them, as they could be removed in later versions of Office.
The example form
Since I couldn’t come up with a sample form to present you, I decided to go and edit a type of document that’s readily available: the Europass Curriculum template. I’ll show you how to replace the preset text with fields that can be filled out and also highlight some caveats that you may encounter when creating your own fillable form. I should point out that form-filling only works with the DOCX document format: saving your form as a PDF document will render it non-editable.
The end result of my little “experiment” can be downloaded from Europass CV English (21 downloads) . If you find it useful, you’re free to download it and use it. You’re also free to create a version in your own language. If you do and wish to share it, get in touch with me by clicking the Contact link above and I’ll be more than happy to provide it as a download.
Creating our form in Word
The first thing I did after downloading the Europass template from here was to save it as a DOCX document, because DOC doesn’t support the newest content controls. After that, I needed to remove the annotations written in red (was it blood?! :o). Now I had a document I could start working on. I replaced the contents of section Personal Information with Plain Text Content Controls. I chose those instead of Rich Text ones simply because there is no need to insert particular formatting in them. I also added Repeating Section Content Controls around the sections for email addresses, websites and IM services, so that one can add as many as she wants. I also inserted the square devoted to the photo inside a Picture Content Control. The end result looked like this.
Don’t be afraid if it looks like all these many content controls break the formatting. It seems they do only because Design Mode is enabled. Once it’s disabled, the formatting will look normal again.
The following section requires the form filler to select among a set of options. I replaced them with a Drop-Down List Content Control and added the relevant options in the Properties window.
Sections Work Experience and Education and Training are quite similar. Both required a Repeating Section Content Control, so that the user can insert as many previous jobs or qualifications as she wants. I needed to insert two Rich Text Content Controls, one for the employer’s name and locality and one for the bullet list, since it’s possible that the form filler may want to insert multiple lines. Education and Training was a pretty much identical ordeal, save for the EQF level, which required a Combo Box Content Control.
Section Personal Skills was slightly trickier because we couldn’t insert a single Repeating Section Content Control. In fact, it had a few features that couldn’t be repeated automatically. Handling each part separately did the trick.
Lastly, I condensed sections Additional Information and Annexes into one, leaving the user to decide if she wants to use one or both (but not none).
Here’s the final result.
Once I was done creating the form, I clicked Restrict Editing in the Developer tab, checked Allow only this type of editing in the document and selected Filling in forms. Then, I clicked the Yes, start enforcing protection button and I was done. If you want to create your own version of this Europass form, you can use the password