Where would we be without forms? Arguably a lot happier, but until someone comes up with a simpler or more efficient means of gathering information we're stuck with them. Most of the time we're on the receiving end, filling them in, but if you are involved with any sort of organisation, from a local allotment society, charity or any type of business, there will be times when you need to create forms for others to complete.

You can compose a simple form on a typewriter or just about any word processor and whilst a column or two of plain text and a few dotted lines will get the job done, it's not going to look very elegant. One solution is to get hold of a specialist form creation program; there are plenty to choose from including several available via the Internet as shareware. Ez-Forms Maker is well worth trying, a freeware version can be downloaded from

Generally speaking programs such as these are easy to use and capable of good results but if you have Word or Excel on your PC or any of the leading word processor or spreadsheet programs you already have all the software you need to create professional looking forms.   

Spreadsheets are very good at making forms. The flexible grid design helps organise the layout and simplifies text entry, moreover programs like Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 contain plenty of embellishments that will make the finished product look attractive and hopefully easier to fill in. The Table facilities in word processors like Word and WordPro can also be used to make neat looking forms and again there are lots of ways to spruce them up. Forms made using spreadsheets and tables can also contain embedded commands and formulae to make the form interactive, responding to the data input in some way, though obviously this only works when the form is an on-screen or on-line document, as opposed to a paper form.

However, we're going to start off with something a little less ambitious and look at a couple of ways of producing a smart printed form with minimal effort, using various form-making facilities in Word 97. The example we'll use is a membership application form for a local gardening club. Before starting it's a good idea to rough out the main elements of the form on a sheet of paper. This will save you time and give you an idea of how it will look.

Method number one is to open a new blank document and call up the Forms toolbar. You'll find it by right clicking into an empty space next to the top toolbar and selecting Forms from the drop-down menu. Alternatively select Forms from Toolbars on the View menu at the top of the screen. Position the floating menu where it won't get in the way. Key in the headings and text then use the Insert Frame tool to create response boxes next to each item. For simple yes/no answers or multiple choice questions use the Check Box tool to insert little squares for ticks. This method produces a fairly plain looking form, for something a little more eye-catching call up the Drawing Toolbar and use the Text Box and Shadow or 3D tools to give response boxes a bit more depth. When you're happy with your form name and save it and print it out in the usual way.

Method number two is even easier and that is to adapt a ready-made form template. Word has several to choose from but the one that best suits our needs is actually an Internet web page. Click on New on the File menu; select the Web Pages tab and double click on the Web Page Wizard icon. From the list that appears choose Form–Registration, then Next, select Elegant style and click on the Finish Button. You should now see a slick looking form that you can customise to your hearts content. All of the text can be changed, so begin by putting in the heading and contact details. Change the side headings as necessary, State/Province and Zip Code can go straight away, and since this form will be printed out you can highlight and delete the drop-down menu, redundant buttons and references to other related pages.

The shaded areas are meant for on-screen text entry and as such are a bit on the short side for writing in, but you can extend them by going to the View menu and selecting Form Design Mode. This brings up a Control Toolbox that allows you to highlight and change the shape any of the graphic elements on the page using the sizing handles. Items on the page can be moved and repositioned using normal drag and drop techniques though you may find that because this is a web page unexpected things can happen to the layout. The trick is to make changes one step at a time, and save frequently. When you have finished save the form as a Word document and print.

Next week – making a better CV




Cells in a spreadsheet or table can contain hidden instructions to perform calculations or carry out specific actions when data is entered


A blank area or box on a form for text or data entry  


Highlights – usually small black squares around the edge of a graphic object or picture -- that can be used to change its size and shape by clicking and dragging the mouse pointer



Several readers have written in recently asking how they can check up on their PC's Internet connection speed in Windows 95/98. Whilst on line a small double monitor icon appears in the System Tray, next to the clock, if you place the mouse pointer over it you will see a summary of bytes sent and received and modem connection speed. Click on the icon and the disconnect dialogue box appears, with the same information displayed. However, unless the modem has been properly configured the connection speed may appear impossibly high, at 115,200 bits/sec. This is the speed at which the PC is communicating with the modem, rather than the speed of data flowing down the telephone line. To remedy that you will need to program the modem with an AT command to display transfer speed in the dialogue box. Open Control Panel and double click on the Modem icon, make sure your modem is highlighted on the General tab, select Properties, then the Connection tab and then the Advanced Button. In the field marked Extra settings enter one of the following commands -- if one doesn't work try another. W2 (for modems with Rockwell chipsets), AT&F1 (3COM and USR models) or MR=2 (later Rockwell models and PCI cards). If you still see 115,200 bits/sec try your modem manual or visit the manufacturer's web site and look for the Report DCE speed (Data Communication Equipment) command line.  

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