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December 13, 2013

Word’s Fertile Fields

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

One of the most powerful features in Microsoft Word is the field. It’s a topic on which I don’t go into detail in my book, Word For Dummies, mostly because I don’t have the pages. Still, you gain a lot of power from Word once you understand how useful fields can be.

The most common type of field used in Word is the page number field. I wrote about this type of field in an earlier blog post. The variety of fields is far greater than just controlling a page number.

First, to find the fields.

In older versions of Word, the Fields command was pretty prominent on one of the menus. Since Word 2007, the command is tucked away on the on the Insert tab, in the Text group, on the Quick Parts button menu. Figure 1 can help you locate this button menu.

Figure 1. Locating the Fields command.

Figure 1. Locating the Fields command.

Once you choose the Field command, the Field dialog box appears. It inserts a field at the current cursor’s location. So if you want a field in the document’s Header or Footer, you edit that part of the document first, then summon the Field dialog box.

As an example of using a field, I typically insert the PrintDate field on the front page of my book proposals. That way the proposal is “currently” dated whenever I print the document. Here’s how to setup that type of field:

  1. Summon the Field dialog box.
  2. Choose the PrintDate field from the list of Field Names. You can pare down the Field Names by first choosing a category from the Categories menu. In this case, the Date and Time category works.
  3. Select a format for the date from those listed in the dialog box. Figure 2 shows the list.
  4. Set any additional options at the far right end of the dialog box.
  5. Click the OK button to insert the field.
Figure 2. The Field dialog box, Date and Time category selected. (Click image to embiggen.)

Figure 2. The Field dialog box, Date and Time category selected. (Click image to embiggen.)

Don’t be surprised if the field looks odd in your document. For example, the PrintDate field looks like this until you actually print:

XXX 0, 0000

Now it may not look exactly like that; those characters are placeholders for the date format I chose. But until the document prints, that’s how the field looks.

Beyond inserting a field, you should be aware of two weird field things.

First, the field looks odd when it’s selected or when you move the cursor into or over the field. Specifically, the field is highlighted with a dark background. That’s merely a visible clue that the text you’re working with is a field and not regular text.

Second, the field has a dark, hidden side to it: You can right-click the mouse on the field to reveal its secret side. Choose the Toggle Field Codes command and you’ll see what the field really looks like “in the raw.” As an example, the PrintDate field could look like this when its codes are toggled:

{ PRINTDATE \@ "MMMM d, yyyy" \* MERGEFORMAT }

All that text is secret stuff Word uses to present and format the field. Don’t mess with it unless you know what you’re doing! In fact, right-click the field and choose the Edit Field command when you want to make changes. That’s the sane way.

Finally, you can manually update a field, refreshing its content at any time: Right-click the field and choose the Update Field command. Providing that the document’s information has changed, the field should update to reflect that new information.

Here are a few handy fields you may consider trying out in a document:

Field Command Category Displays…
Date Dave and Time the current time, date, or both
DocProperty Document Information a variety of items related to the document, including page count, word count, date, time, and other details
FileName Document Information the document’s filename, pathname, and even network location
NumWords Document Information the document’s word count
Page Numbering the current page number
PrintDate Date and Time the date when the document was printed
SaveDate Date and Time the date when the document was last saved

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