Smart Tags or Actions in Word 2010 and before

A look at Smart Tags from Word 2002 to Word 2010.

Smart Tags (or Actions as they are called in Office 2010) is a way to put special commands against certain words or phrases. Smart Tags look at the text and, if applicable, become available – in geek speak they are ‘context sensitive’.

For example a ‘Date’ smart tag is only available when Word detects a date. A name based smart tag detects a person’s name and could link to Outlook data for that person.

Smart Tags have been available since Word 2002 (XP) though have been mostly ignored. Few Smart Tags have been available and most people don’t even know they are there.

Since many Smart Tags rely on connections to other systems, notably Outlook, the tags have been a drain on Word’s performance. As computers get faster and have more memory, the performance concerns have lessened.

Whichever version of Word you have, Smart Tags / Actions are worth checking out, though they have limitations and haven’t been improved by Microsoft over eight years.

Smart tags have undergone some changes in Word 2010. In earlier versions of Word certain types of data like address, instant messaging contact, time and measurement converter which are labeled as smart tags were highlighted by a purple dotted underline.

In Word 2010 the purple line has gone and you have to right-click, choose Additional Actions to see what, if anything, is available.


Smart Tags = Actions

Smart Tags have been renamed Actions in Office 2010 – though not all the documentation has been updated.

As we type this, a search for ‘Actions’ or ‘Smart Tags’ in the Word 2010 help file yields no relevant results. The first result is the Microsoft Office 2010 Upload Center!

Word 2010 - Help search for Actions.jpg image from Smart Tags or Actions in Word 2010 and before at Office-Watch.com


Enable an Action

There are various ways to choose the available Actions.

Right-mouse click in any Word 2010 document, choose Additional Actions then Options. The same dialog is available from File | Options | Add-ins | Manage Actions or File | Options | Proofing | AutoCorrect Options | Actions.

AutoCorrect window will pop open which displays all the available smart tags.

Autocorrect window.jpg image from Smart Tags or Actions in Word 2010 and before at Office-Watch.com

Click on an action and check the box for any action you want.

If the Properties button is available you may see some configuration options available for the action. In many cases the ‘Properties’ button opens a generic, non-specific, Microsoft web page.

The ‘More actions’ button takes you to a Microsoft web page where there’s only two additional actions available at this time.

In Word 2007 go Office button | Options | Add-ins | Manage Smart Tags.

In Word 2002 (XP) and Word 2003 the Smart Tags are configured from Tools | AutoCorrect Options | Smart Tags.


How Smart Tags or Actions appear

Up to Word 2007 a little icon appeared as well as the purple dotted line whenever some qualifying text is detected.

Word 2007 - Smart Tag icon.jpg image from Smart Tags or Actions in Word 2010 and before at Office-Watch.com

Click on the icon to see the Smart Tag options available, in this case the Name tag.

Word 2007 - Smart Tag name menu.jpg image from Smart Tags or Actions in Word 2010 and before at Office-Watch.com

In Word 2010 Smart Tags / Actions are less prominent. There is no underline nor icon, instead you have to right-click, choose Additional Options and see if there’s anything available.

We hope there are options available to display the old Smart Tag line or icon – but we can’t find them.

Word 2010 - Actions buried under Additional Actions menu.jpg image from Smart Tags or Actions in Word 2010 and before at Office-Watch.com

The installed Actions / Smart Tags don’t seem to have been updated for many years. The ‘Telephone’ Action only recognizes US phone numbers with area codes. The Date code has very limited date recognition options.

FedEx has a possibly useful Smart Tag to lookup a package tracking number, however it hasn’t been updated since Word 2002 (XP). We’ve tried to install with Word 2010 to no avail but that could be a 64-bit software issue.

Microsoft seems conflicted about Actions in Word 2010. They’ve changed the name and the menu access, yet made them less obvious to users. Smart Tags / Actions were always a good idea, perhaps a little ahead of its time, but it really needs a dedicated push from Microsoft to make them truly useful.

Microsoft has some details for programmers interested in creating Word 2010 Actions.

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