“AutoComplete” revisited / Quick primer on Quick Parts (Word 2010 and Word 2007)

February 6, 2010 at 4:56 pm 1 comment

Quite by accident, I discovered this afternoon that the AutoComplete function, which was removed from Word 2007 (with the notable exception of dates, names of months, and names of days of the week), has been restored in Word 2010.

How AutoComplete Works

In versions of Word prior to 2007, AutoComplete worked in conjunction with AutoText, a feature that lets you insert boilerplate text with just a few keystrokes.[1] If you created an AutoText entry and assigned it an abbreviation that was at least four characters long, an AutoComplete prompt appeared when you typed the first four characters of the abbreviation. You could press the Enter key to insert the AutoText entry or simply keep typing if you didn’t want to invoke the AutoText entry. (Alternatively, you could press F3 to expand the abbreviation after typing the first few characters, a method that works in Word 2007 and 2010 as well as in older versions.[2])

What’s nice about AutoComplete is that you don’t have to remember every abbreviation for every AutoText / Quick Parts entry you’ve ever set up. (Quick Parts is the new name for AutoText, first used in Word 2007. People sometimes use the alternate term Building Blocks, but I prefer Quick Parts.) In Word 2010, the AutoComplete prompts are enabled by default, but you can turn them off if you like. To do so, click the File drop-down at the left side of the screen (also referred to as the “Backstage View”), navigate to and click “Options,” then click to select the “Advanced” category in the Word Options navigation bar. The first set of configuration options you’ll see on the right are the “Editing options”; locate the “Show AutoComplete suggestions” checkbox toward the bottom of that section and click to uncheck the box, then OK out of the Word Options.

Microsoft originally indicated that, for AutoComplete to work, the AutoText / Quick Parts entry must be saved to your normal.dotm (the macro-enabled NORMAL template for Word 2010 / Word 2007) and it must be in the AutoText gallery in the Building Blocks Organizer (check the Insert tab, Text group, Quick Parts, Building Blocks Organizer).[3] However, they have updated that information since I first published this post in February and now say that as long as an entry is saved in a template other than BuildingBlocks.dotx — regardless of which gallery it’s in — typing the abbreviation should trigger the AutoComplete prompt.

It’s worth pointing out that Quick Parts entries created by using the “Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery” option at the bottom of the Quick Parts drop-down are saved in the BuildingBlocks.dotx template by default. (If you create the entry by using Alt F3 instead, it will be saved in the normal.dotm template.) However, you can click the “Edit Properties” button and change the template where the entry is saved.

If you have difficulty getting AutoComplete to work, try re-creating the entry from scratch, making sure to save it in a template other than BuildingBlocks.dotx.

A Quick Primer on Quick Parts

Quick Parts (formerly known as AutoText) is a fabulous, time-saving feature. As mentioned above, it gives you a quick way of inserting boilerplate text — which can be heavily formatted and can include automatic numbering codes, among other handy automation tools — with minimal keystrokes. Many people use Quick Parts for signature blocks, headings for interrogatories or other discovery, standard paragraphs used in contracts, and even short phrases or company names that recur throughout their documents. Those are just a few of the many possibilities.

Here’s a quick primer in case you have never used this feature. (These steps should work in both Word 2010 and Word 2007, except that AutoComplete isn’t available in Word 2007.)

First, type the text, format it, and insert any field codes you wish to use, such as a SEQ code for an automatic number in discovery headings. Once you’ve done so, select the text. NOTE: Depending on the situation, you might or might not wish to include the paragraph symbol / pilcrow that follows every paragraph in Word, or even the blank line underneath, when you select text. For instance, it can be useful to select everything up to and including the blank line immediately under a heading so that expanding the abbreviation inserts both the heading and some additional space where you can start typing.[4]

With the text selected, click the Insert tab, Quick Parts, Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery… or, alternatively, simply press Alt F3 to open the “Create New Building Block” dialog. In the “Name” field, type an abbreviation. Remember that the abbreviation must be at least four characters long to trigger AutoComplete. Also, make it descriptive and easy to remember, such as “ROGG.” Triggers for Quick Parts / AutoText are not case sensitive, so it doesn’t matter whether you use CAPS, lower case, Initial Caps, or mIXED cASE.

To ensure that you can use AutoComplete in Word 2010, click the “Save n” drop-down and choose “Normal.dotm” (or any template other than BuildingBlocks.dotx). Type a brief description if you wish (an optional step), then click OK.

Now test the new Quick Parts entry by typing your abbreviation. If you are using Word 2010 (and you haven’t disabled AutoComplete), you should see a prompt after you type the fourth character of your abbreviation. At that point, press Enter to insert the Quick Part entry. Or, if you prefer, just press F3, the expansion key for Quick Parts and AutoText in all versions of Word.

Remember, too, that you can insert Quick Parts directly from the Building Blocks Organizer. Locate the one you want to use, click to select it, then click the “Insert” button.

Organizing and Backing Up Quick Parts

Because the Building Blocks Organizer is pre-populated with dozens of entries and is somewhat difficult to wade through — especially since the window is a fixed size — you might want to delete some of the built-in entries. Unfortunately, you must delete them one at a time.

In addition to deleting entries, it might help, at least a little, to sort the items in the Organizer. As in many other Windows programs, you can sort by column by clicking on a column heading. So, for example, clicking the “Name” column sorts the Quick Parts alphabetically by name, and sorting the “Gallery” heading sorts alphabetically by the gallery in which the Quick Parts are stored. But unlike in other Windows programs, a second click on a column heading won’t sort in reverse order (i.e., you can’t click the “Name” column once to sort from A to Z and then click a second time to sort from Z to A).

Customized Quick Parts entries are stored in a template called BuildingBlocks.dotx. Be sure to back up (and make a copy of) that template periodically. It has a tendency to get corrupted.

Actually, there are two Building Blocks templates that come with the newer versions of Word; one is user-customizable and one isn’t. Each user has his or her own customizable copy. That’s the one to back up. You can find it in the following location:

In Windows XP:
C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Application Data\Microsoft\Document Building Blocks\1033 [5]

In Windows Vista:
C:\Users\[UserName]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Document Building Blocks\1033[5]

Not sure of the path in Windows 7. I’ll update this post if/when I locate that information.

[1] See the section entitled “A Quick Primer on Quick Parts” for more about what AutoText / Quick Parts entries are, why they’re useful, and how to create them.

[2] The F3 key appears to expand abbreviations for AutoText / QuickParts entries even if you type only two or three characters of an abbreviation — as long as you have only one AutoText / QuickPart entry that uses an abbreviation that starts with those two or three characters.

[3] See, for example, this recent exchange on Microsoft’s TechNet site. Note that apparently there is a glitch that prevents AutoComplete prompts from appearing if the horizontal scroll bar is visible. I don’t know whether Microsoft will fix this (fairly minor) bug prior to the formal release of Word 2010 in June.

[4] Figuring out whether to include any extra space in the selection takes some thought and practice. Fortunately, it’s easy to replace an existing Quick Part entry. When you create a new entry and assign it the same name as one in the Organizer, Word will ask if you wish to redefine the existing one. Just be careful not to click “Yes” unless you’re certain you want to overwrite the old entry.

[5] The “1033″ at the end of the path is the language code if you are using American English. This portion of the path will be different if you are using a language other than American English. (U.K. English is 2057; Canadian English is 4105; Australian is 3081; etc. For a complete list, see this MS article.)

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1 Comment

  • [...] “AutoComplete” returns in Word 2010 / Quick Primer on Quick Parts … [3] I’m finding that I have to re-create some of my existing Quick Parts entries — even though they meet those criteria — in order to get the AutoComplete tips to pop up. A Quick Primer on Quick Parts. AutoText / Quick Parts is a fabulous, .. The rest is here: “AutoComplete” returns in Word 2010 / Quick Primer on Quick Parts … [...]

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