There’s More to Microsoft Word Templates than Meets the Eye – Part 1

There’s More to Microsoft Word Templates than Meets the Eye – Part 1

I think most people have a good understanding of the term "template".

A template is a guide, a layout, a preliminary sketch of what or how to construct something. In Microsoft Word there are many templates that help you create resumes, calendars, formal letters with letterhead, invoices, and more.

Yet below the surface view of a template there can be other features and functions that you might not be as familiar with, or at least, you might not know how to use them to your advantage.


The first thing I should do before sharing any more, is to provide you with some template jargon so you will understand what it means if I use it.

Microsoft Word templates can be described as:

  • document templates

  • global templates, and

  • macro-driven templates. 

The types of templates I mentioned earlier would generally be described as document templates because they help layout what the final document, such as a resume, calendar, etc. is going to look like.

If a template contains macros that automate something within the template or document, then you would refer to the template as a macro-driven template. Macro-driven templates are usually still document templates but because of the added automation features, Microsoft Word reacts to them a bit differently. 

Global templates may or may not contain macros and are stored in a unique location, the Startup folder of Word. They are referred to as global because, from their stored location, they can influence many documents, whereas templates stored elsewhere only influence the specific document to which they are attached.

“Attached” … there’s a little piece of jargon that should be explained

Templates aren’t really “attached” as a sandbur might be to your socks after walking thru a field, nor are they riding piggy back style with your document file when you email it to someone else.

In Microsoft Word jargon, an attached template is a directory path link to the template file that was used to create the document, and path links to global templates are never attached because they simply exist on the computer or not. The one global template that always exists if Word is installed is named Normal.dotm.

Regardless of type, all templates contain...

Word Styles, which define the look of text in paragraphs, lists, characters and tables.

They also contain the ability to store chunks of boiler plate text, graphics, pictures, tables automation fields, et cetera that can be added, updated, or reused in other documents.

And then of course, certain designated templates can contain specially written macros that further add unique powers and abilities to any document that has access to them.

Styles, boiler plate content sometimes called AutoText or Building Blocks, and macros, are those hidden things in templates that you might not be leveraging to your advantage.

So here's what you need to do.

To attach a custom template to an existing document because you want to use the Styles, AutoText, or Macros of that template, you use the Templates and Add-ins dialog.

On a Word for Windows system (PC) you open the dialog by clicking the Document Template button, which is located on the Developer tab.

On a Mac version of Word, you open it from the Menu Bar under the Tools > Templates and Add-ins… option. 

For illustration purposes, I am showing you the Mac version of the dialog. The Windows version looks different but contains all the same controls and information.


The Templates and Add-ins dialog shows you what template is primary for the document.

In the sample shown, it is Word’s Normal template.

To change the primary template to a different one:

  1. Click the Attach button

  2. Navigate to the new template location & select it

  3. Click OK to exit out of the open dialog boxes. 

After attaching a template, if you open the Templates and Add-ins dialog again you will see the new “attached” template and its directory path.

To remove a template from a document, simply clear the document template text box on this dialog and click OK. Word will revert the primary template to its Normal template.

FYI: The contents of Word’s Normal template and any custom Global templates that are loaded into Word’s Startup folder are available for you to use. In addition, the contents of any document template or macro-driven template specially “attached” to your document are also available for you to use.

In Part 2 on this subject of Word Templates, I’ll cover various leveraging scenarios.

Written by Richard V. Michaels, M.Ed.
Chief Product Architect, Great Circle Learning
Microsoft Word MVP

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