Automating Form Documents in WordPerfect

by Kendall Callas

Most WordPerfect users have standard documents they use over and over -- form letters, boilerplate contracts, pleading templates, and re-usable formats (for letters, memos, pleadings, invoices, etc.). Here's a brief survey of advanced WordPerfect features (for DOS and Windows) with discussion of how they can help automate "fill-in-the-blank" forms.

Many users simply re-use a previous document to start a new one. It's simply a matter of editing the last letter to client XYZ, adding the current date, making the changes, then remembering to save it to a new filename. Unfortunately, this approach exposes you to 3 dangers:

  1. Lost file. If one saves, but forgets to change the filename, the original document is over-written and deleted!
  2. Wrong date. It's easy to forget to add a new date. How much of a problem is it if one of your documents goes out with an old date?
  3. Old information. In the helter skelter activity of your work day, it's difficult to assure that all the old text is deleted. Does it mean much to you if your letter includes an old RE: line or a paragraph of old text? Obviously this becomes even more serious when constructing pleadings.

While okay from time to time, if people in your office routinely create new documents from old ones, you will probably find the risk of error to be unacceptably high. Firms that do not routinely include this aspect of document creation in their WordPerfect training should correct their procedures and tutor their users on this point.

Several effective tools avoid these vulnerabilities to error and help quickly create form documents: format files, merging, macros, templates, and markers.


A format file is certainly the easiest solution. Simply store the reusable portion of a document -- codes and text -- in a file and use that file as the kernel to begin new documents. It would include all the format codes needed and perhaps significant portions of text. For example, a Letter format file might end with a standard closing ("If you have any questions ...") and signature block ("Very truly yours", etc.); an Envelope format file might begin with a return address; a Memo format file might start out with the ubiquitous "To:", "From:", "Subject:", and "Date:"; a Pleading format file might include a caption, page numbering, signature block, even the skeleton for a Table of Authorities.


Merge documents offer more than format files, but require that you start in a special way. You can't just retrieve them, you must merge them (in WordPerfect for DOS, start with Ctrl+F9; in WordPerfect for Windows, start with Tools, Merge).

Merge documents provide two large advantages: First, once the merge has created the document on-screen, it does not yet have a filename, so the risk of accidentally saving the completed document back on top of the form file is completely avoided. Tip: Even if using simple format files, take advantage of this feature; start by merging them instead of retrieving them.

The second advantage of merging is the power of merge codes. When creating a merge document, the Merge Codes menu offers commands to insert the current date, define and use variables (to repeat an entry elsewhere in the document), and to include or "nest" other items within the document (such as to call a macro, retrieve another document, or insert fields from data files).


The latest versions of WordPerfect (6.1 for DOS or 6.0/6.1 for Windows) include a new feature called Templates. These are as easy to edit as format files, are conveniently selected from a menu, and automatically avoid the risk of accidentally over-writing the form file. However, a major drawback of Templates thus far is that they cannot include merge codes.

Templates use an opening input screen to gather all the fill-in-the-blank fields in advance, instead of prompting the user for input within the context of the document. They come as a set of over 50 desktop-published forms.

Templates automatically personalize themselves. Your personal details (name and address, phone numbers, etc.) and entries from an Address Book can be automatically inserted into template forms. The Address Book is a real treasure. It is dramatically useful for creating letters and faxes. Unfortunately, it is startlingly primitive in some ways. (For instance, it cannot sort entries by last name.)

Templates offer sophisticated control of macros. Though macros cannot be embedded at specific points in a document (such as in a merge document to offer a choice of names or phrases), they can be defined to trigger before or after certain actions, such as creating a table, printing, opening or exiting the Template, and opening, exiting, or switching to another document window.


Macros are poor solutions for creating form documents because they are programs or recorded actions; they are not documents and cannot be easily edited, printed, or previewed as can Templates or format files. Of course, they are helpful tools for launching a merge, offering menu choices to control vocabulary (He/She/It/They), counting the number of pages in a fax, etc. Macros may be started manually by the typist, embedded within merge documents, or defined to be triggered in Templates.


For form documents, the basic "stop code" is one of the most important functions. It marks locations in the document where the typist needs to insert information for the current task. In merge documents, depending on your WordPerfect version, this is done with the INPUT or KEYBOARD merge code. Merge codes can also prompt the typist with a short message, such as instructions about what to type at each location.


A simple "fill-in-the-blank" marker may be best for your form documents if you can do without prompts and wish to avoid the complexity of Templates and merge codes. Using the format file approach, make a copy of an existing document that you often re-use. Edit the duplicate to strip out all the task-specific wording at each fill-in-the-blank location, replacing it with a simple marker: XX (two X's). This low-tech marker has the advantages of being easy to create and search for.

By placing an XX marker at each blank the typist needs to fill in, using the form is simply a matter of searching for "XX", then typing in the entry appropriate to that location. The drawback of this approach is that it offers no message to instruct the user as to what to type, but most often the context is enough of a guide since the user can see the text where typing will be inserted.

Next month I'll present an easy to record macro to expedite the search and deletion of the "XX" marker.

Copyright (C) 1996 by microCounsel, (415) 921-6850. All rights reserved.

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