Although I have written many articles explaining how to create various types of forms in Word, I still get email from people asking me how to create a document that has lines where the users fill-in the form information. The problem is that some people seem to feel that their documents must have blank lines so the person filling out the form will know where to enter the information. Many of these people also seem to want the newly entered form information underlined so they can more easily see what was entered.
These types of forms are common in the legal field. For example, you might see a document with content such as:
I, ________________, do hereby...
It's fairly obvious that you are supposed to enter your name in the space provided by the underline. The problem with this layout in Word is that, when a user attempts to type on the line in the document, the text is not underlined. When the information is filled in, you end up with something that looks like this:
I, ____Dian Chapman____________, do hereby...
Not only does the newly entered information not end up underlined, but the rest of the text moves over to make room for the typed content.
You also sometimes will encounter this blank underline method to create more standard type document forms, such as:
Name: _____________________ Email: ___________________
For layouts like this one, a much better method is to create the document using a table, as shown below.
Of course, many people will complain that the above is not the look they want, because it shows the border of the table. In Word, however, there's no law that says you have borders all the way around your table. You can easily select the table and remove all but the bottom border in the two locations where you want the user to enter their details.
This image shows the exact same table as the previous one. I just removed the unnecessary borders. The image below illustrates this technique. You can see the Word table structure as well as the borders.
The person using the form now can type in the table cell with the underlining. As I explained in my Please Fill Out This Form series here in Computor Companion, if you insert form fields in the underlined cells, you can then lock the document. The form user can easily tab from field to field to fill in the needed content without affecting the layout of the rest of the form. (For more about creating forms in Word, see this link: http://www.mousetrax.com/techpage.html#autoforms.)
Unfortunately, this method doesn't always work for all types of documents. For example, like I said, you might have a legal document that requires underlining throughout a letter, where a table structure just can't be used.
You can work around this problem in a couple of ways. One approach is to tell the people using the form that they have to press the Insert key on their keyboard or double click on the OVR button at the bottom of their screen in Word, as shown below.
Pressing Insert puts put Word into overtype mode, so the text will no longer move over to make room for the new text. Instead the form user is typing over the existing text (i.e., the underlining). Overtype mode stops the remaining text from being pushed forward when new text is entered on the line. Of course, to include the underlining for the newly inserted text, the form user needs to press Ctrl + U before they type to turn on underlining.
As you can see in the image above, this approach solves the problem, but it can be quite cumbersome for users to have to remember keyboard commands each time they want to enter data on lines in your forms.
A better method is to insert a form field on the line. You can then apply underlining to the form field, so any information typed into the form field is underlined. The form field still doesn't solve the problem of overtyping, so the other text in your document will still be moved to the side to make room for new content, as you can see below. Because you must lock a document to get the form fields to activate, the form user also won't be able to switch to overtype mode.
So how do you solve this dilemma? If you ask me, the best way to handle this issue is to stop thinking in the past! Accept the fact that not all documents need to have underlines. If you work in the legal field where these types of old fashioned forms are still in use, at least realize that you don't need to start out with a long line where the form field needs to be placed. Just insert a form field and apply underlining to the form field. Then, at least you won't end up with an excess line pushing all your text down the page. Although the new data will still move the content to the right a bit, it only moves enough to make room for the needed information, as shown below.
You still need to lock the document (Tools|Protect Document|Forms) to activate the form fields, but locking the form makes it easier for people using the form to complete it because they can just press the Tab key to move from field to field. Your final document has the new information underlined, and you don't end up with a lot of extra underlining shoving your text all over the page.
Granted, this technique may not solve all your issues. But you may not be able to have your cake and eat it, too! To get an electronic document to work so it isn't a hassle for the user, you may have to rethink your layout and use a different format.
For those few people who are completely unwilling to recognize certain limitations and demand that the document must have lines, the content cannot move and cannot be locked with form fields, you need to take another approach. Assuming you don't know Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), you have two options. You can either hire a professional form expert to program your form, or you can print out the form and hand it to your user along with a pen. Sure it's old fashioned, but at least you get your lines!