MS-Word 2007/10/13

This article defines templates and explains how and why they are used. It also shows how to create custom templates, modify templates, set up a folder for user-generated templates, and manage Styles between templates.

Document Templates

What Are Templates?

Templates are re-usable patterns that save time and effort by providing a head-start on creating frequently-used or complex documents.

Besides saving effort, templates also help to standardize documents. Standardization is important for communication in the business world and academics rely upon standards like MLA, APA, and Chicago for the presentation of research.

Types of documents which are frequently based on specialized templates include:

  • Research papers
  • Minutes of meetings
  • Memos and other internal communications
  • Business correspondence
  • Forms of all kinds

MS-Word templates are disk files with either the .dotx or .dotm file type. The .dotm file type indicates that the template is macro-enabled.

Icons for template files in Windows Explorer have a distinctive splash of gold color to distinguish them from ordinary documents.

The default, general-purpose template for MS-Word is called the Normal template.

Templates can include:

  • Text and/or graphics
  • Direct formatting
  • Styles
  • Macros

Using Templates

Every document you create in MS-Word is based on a template.

If you begin a new document using the new document tool () or pressing Ctrl-N or clicking on Blank Document in the new file menu (see figure below), your document will be based on Word's default template, called Normal.

Other more specialized templates are included with Word and documents based on them are opened from the File > New task pane.

Custom templates that you have created are chosen by clicking on "My Templates" in the File > New task pane.

When you open a template the new document you get is a copy of the template and not the template itself.

Creating Custom Templates

When there is no pre-defined template that suit your needs, it is easy to create your own custom template. Beginning with a blank document in Word, follow these steps:

  1. Create new custom styles or modify existing styles as required
  2. Adjust margins and other page formats
  3. Add "boilerplate" text
  4. Record macros, if any

When you're ready to save the document as a template:

  1. Press F12 (Save As)
  2. Open the file type field menu and change from Word Document (.docx) to Word Template (.dotx, or .dotm if your template includes macros)
  3. Type a descriptive name for the template
  4. Save to the folder where you keep your templates (see "Setting Up a Template Folder" below)

To open a new document based on the template, open the File menu, click on New, and then click on "My Templates". Double-click the template to open a blank document based on it.

Modifying Templates

Non-formatting contents of templates, like boiler-plate, can't be modified directly because templates are held open while you work on documents which are based upon them.

Instead, modifications are made to another document and then the modified document is substituted for the original template after it has been closed. It works like this:

  1. Retrieve the template OR begin a new document based on the template
  2. Make necessary modifications
  3. Use Save As to save the modified document as a template, but with a name different from the original
  4. After Saving As, close the document
  5. In Windows Explorer, delete the original template and rename the new one with the name of the original

Saving Styles to Templates

When you modify an existing style or add a new one, the change is saved only to the current document by default.

For a new or modified style to become available in new documents based on the template, you must specifically tell Word to save it in the template.

This is done in the Modify Styles dialog box by selecting the "New documents based on this template" radio button instead of "Only in this document". For complete details, see Formatting with Styles: Changing Document Defaults.

Setting up a Template Folder

Older versions of Word automatically saved custom templates in an obscure, out-of-the-way location in the filing system. Recent versions (2007/10/13) save them wherever you specify in the Save dialog box.

Avoid having templates scattered about by creating a special folder for your templates and saving them all there. Then, indicate to Word where to find them using File Locations in the Options menu. Here's how:

  1. In Windows Explorer, create a template folder
    For example: My Documents\Templates
  2. Open MS-Word
  3. Click on the "Files" tab
  4. Click on "Options"
  5. Click on "Advanced"
  6. Scroll down to the "General" section (near the bottom)
  7. Click on "File Locations"
  8. Click on "User Templates"
  9. Click the "Modify" button
  10. Navigate to the folder you created in Step 1
  11. Click on "Ok", "Ok", "Ok"

When you want to use one of your templates in that folder:

  1. Click on the "File" tab
  2. Click on "New"
  3. Click on "My Templates"
  4. Double-click your template

Managing Styles Between Templates

Styles can be copied between documents and document templates using the Organizer dialog box.

To open the Organizer, open the Styles task pane, click on Manage button (rightmost button at bottom of task pane), and then click the Import/Export button in the Manage Styles dialog box.

Backing Up Templates

Templates require time and effort to produce. Like all disk files they are subject to deletion, corruption, and loss due to disk failures. Therefore, templates should be considered as data and backed up regularly or as needed.


Bruce Miller, 2000, 2005, 2014

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