Reusable text in Word documents

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Officially there’s one way to insert common or reused text into a Word document – but really there’s two options, depending you on your need.  We’ll show you both!

We recently told you about Quick Parts and AutoText to be used in Outlook emails, now let’s look at those same features in Word itself.

Quick Parts has one major limitation which we’ll address by showing how to link common text from another Word document.

Quick Parts

Quick Parts are blocks of Word ‘stuff’ that can be inserted into a document.  They are used in Word to supply all manner of preset formatting like Cover Pages, Headers, Footers, Equations, Page Numbering, Tables and a lot more. Go to the Building Block Organizer to see them all.

Today we’ll focus on AutoText which has been in Word for a long time but was bundled into Quick Parts from Office 2007 onwards.

AutoText can, despite the name, include pretty much any type of Word element. Formatted text, Symbols, Tables, Pictures, Equations and much more.

Make an Autotext entry

Type in your standard text (or, more likely, copy it from a past document) then select everything you want in the AutoText entry.

With the text etc. selected go to Insert | Text | Quick Parts | AutoText then Save Selection to AutoText Gallery

This will open a Create Building Block dialog:

Name:  a unique name for this AutoText.  This is important because the F3 shortcut works from the AutoText name. The order of AutoText entries is alphabetical within each category; keep that in mind when naming AutoText.

Gallery:  Word AutoText / Building Blocks separate into various Galleries.  Choose AutoText.

Category:  Building Blocks also have Categories (no relation to Categories elsewhere in Outlook).  These group AutoText items in the pull-down gallery.

Description:  Any text / comment you like.  It doesn’t appear anywhere but  in this dialog.

Save in:  which template to save the AutoText in.  Use Normal.dotm or Building Blocks.dotx if you want the AutoText available to all documents.  See ‘Where to save AutoText’ below.

Options:  how the AutoText is inserted:

Insert content only:  adds the AutoText at the current insertion point.

Insert content in its own paragraph: add a paragraph mark after the AutoText. Good for standard paragraphs, disclaimers etc.

Insert content in its own page:  adds the AutoText with a Page Break before and after.

Where to save AutoText

AutoText can be saved with any template linked to a document.

For widely used AutoText you can save it in Normal.dotm or, more likely, Building Blocks.dotm.  Both of these are normally loaded automatically by Word so they are available at all times.

If you have a separate template (say for a contract or sales proposal) save the AutoText into the template.

Alternatively, you can make a team or organization wide template that contains AutoText which is accessible to everyone.

Inserting AutoText

Now you have some AutoText entries – how to insert them?  There’s a few options.

From the Insert | Text | Quick Parts | AutoText menu:

There’s a preview of the AutoText plus the name.  The AutoText gallery with preview looks great from Microsoft’s point of view but becomes clumsy if you have more than a handful of entries.  There’s no option to suppress the preview and show more AutoText items on the screen.  The item description doesn’t appear anywhere, not even as a tooltip.  If the AutoText is short, there’s plenty of waster white space in the preview.

Another option is putting the AutoText gallery on the Quick Access Toolbar.   This makes it more accessible than digging down into the ribbon. Do that from Customize Quick Access Toolbar:

Another option is to starting typing the name of the AutoText entry, as soon as you’ve typed enough letters for Word to identify a single entry name, it will show a tooltip suggestion.

Press Enter to insert the AutoText entry.    As you can see, the tooltip only shows the start of the AutoText which might not be enough to tell if it’s the right entry.  Neither the AutoText name nor description are shown.  These deficiencies or lack of options make AutoText a lot less useful than it could be.

Yet another option is to type the name of AutoText entry then press F3.  If Word finds a match between the word you’ve typed and an AutoText name, it will insert the AutoText.  Of course, the automatic suggestion should have kicked in before you’ve finished typing the name.

Yet another choice is the AutoTextList field which deserves a separate article, to come soon.

Insertion Options

Right-click on a gallery item to see some insertion options.  There’s more choices here than in Outlook:

Insert at Current Document Position

Insert at Page Header

Insert at Page Footer

Insert at Beginning of Section

Insert at End of Section

Insert at Beginning of Document

Insert at End of Document

Plus the standard options:

Edit Properties

Organize and Delete


Linked Text

AutoText is great, up to a point.  However, it’s a ‘one-time’ deal only.  A copy of an AutoText entry is put into the document.

If you change the AutoText content it does NOT change any existing documents which use that AutoText entry.

Use Word’s Paste Link as a changing or dynamic alternative to AutoText.  With a paste link, changes in the source item will be automatically updated in linked documents.

An organization can use this feature to ensure all documents are fully up-to-date with details like:

  • Address
  • Standard text like disclaimers, product descriptions, etc
  • Organization details such as a list of partners or directors.

As a simple example, here’s a list of partners which has been selected and copied to the clipboard.

Then switch to another document.  From the Home | Clipboard section, ignore the usual options and choose Paste Special

Then choose Paste Link and one of the options available.

We normally choose ‘HTML Format’ to include all the formatting from the source text.

But you could choose one of the two ‘Unformatted …’ options to paste in only the text without formatting.

In practice, you can make a ‘boilerplate text’ document that contains all the source text to link from.  Make that document available to everyone so they can copy and paste link from it.

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