Ever notice how even the simplest word processing or desktop publishing task takes longer than you planned? Sure, it takes only a few minutes to type your address and the date into a letter or to fill in a fax cover sheet. And it takes only a few minutes to set the line spacing, indent the paragraphs, change the fonts, calculate the number of pages…and suddenly, the morning’s gone. You can’t cut down on your correspondence. But if you find yourself repeating the same steps over and over when you create a document, it’s time for you to tackle templates.
An oft-overlooked but powerful feature of many programs, templates eliminate the need to reinvent the wheel each time you start a new document. They also help you maintain a consistent look across your printed material.
Styles, which automatically apply certain characteristics to individual paragraphs in a document, are just one component of templates (see last month’s column for more information on styles). Templates also contain formatting information that defines the overall appearance of a document: margins, columns, borders, headers, footers, page numbers, and so on. Even better, templates can make quick work of tedious tasks by including fields – codes that instruct your software to automatically insert specific data.
The Great Template Tour
To give you an idea of the flexibility of templates and the timesaving features they offer, I’ll walk you through the four I use most often: letters, faxes, invoices, and manuscripts. With a little bit of customization, you’ll find these templates can suit your needs too.
Letters. My letter template automatically adds my logo and address, phone, and fax information to the header of the first page, but it adds only my initials to the header of the second page. The page number is omitted from the first page but is automatically included on the bottom of the following pages.
To save time, I’ve inserted the file-creation date as a field. This date remains the same regardless of when I print the letter. (On the manuscript template, which I’ll describe below, I use the file-printing date instead. But with a letter, it’s more important to know the date of creation than the date of printing.)
Faxes. The fax template uses the same header and footer information as the letter, and it also includes an invisible table (one without lines) that organizes such information as to, subject, date, time, and number of pages. For consistency with my written correspondence, I use the same typefaces. But to enhance legibility, I’ve reduced the line length and increased the type size and line spacing. These changes make the fax easy to read whether it’s printed on thermal paper or displayed onscreen.
The fax template also includes my name that’s been “signed” in a script typeface, which is handy when I’m faxing a document straight from my computer. (Alternatively, you can scan your signature and insert it as a graphic.)
Two useful fields that I’ve included in my fax template are print date/time and total number of pages. These cause the software to automatically add the date and time that the fax was sent and to calculate the number of pages in the document.
Invoices. Also based on my letter template, the invoice template features a table with a calculated field to automatically total the bill.
Manuscripts. In addition to containing styles for body copy, captions, subheads, and notes, my manuscript template takes liberal advantage of fields. On the first page, I use fields to automatically insert the date and time of printing and to keep track of the total number of words in the document and the total editing time (this information is helpful for billing purposes, though you might want to delete it before submitting the article or proposal).
I also insert the file name and path, so if I’m working with a hard copy, I can quickly find the electronic file. I find it important to include both the date and time of printing, because I often print out numerous drafts of a manuscript on the same day. (If you have any doubts about how much aggravation this little trick can prevent, remind me to tell you about the time I sent a three-version-old draft of an article to an editor….)
Template Techniques When it comes to using templates, you can try the ones included with your program (as is or customized) or create your own. Most word processing and desktop publishing packages make template creation easy. Usually, they let you save existing documents as templates.
To create a template with Word for Windows, for example, you’d select File/Save As after creating a document containing the page layout, styles, and fields you want included. When the Save As dialog box appears, you’d select Document Template in the Save File as Type box. Click on OK, and Word will add a .DOT extension to the original file name.
With PageMaker, it’s equally simple: Just provide a title name and click on the radio button next to Template instead of accepting the Document default in the Save dialog box.
When it comes to editing a previously created template, however, Word makes you go through a clunky three-step process. After making the desired changes in the document template, you use the File/Save As feature to save the template under a different name. Then using Windows File Manager, you delete the original template and rename the revised one with the original name.
PageMaker, in contrast, makes editing a much easier task: Just select File/Save As, click on the radio button next to Template, then click OK. Pagemaker will prompt you that you are about to overwrite a file. Click on OK to update your template.