Word field codes explained

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Word field codes are a way to add some automation or automatic content into your documents.  A simple example is the { DATE } field which will add the current date to a letter.

The quick way to add a Word field code is from Insert | Text, click on the Quick Parts icon and choose ‘Fields …’

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Then choose the field code you want from the list on left.

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The options in the center and right sections will change, depending on the field code selected.  In the above case, a list of all Quick Parts / Building Blocks.

Here’s the DATE field with formatting and other options:

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All the options in the Insert | Field dialog are available from the switches and settings in the field itself.

Click OK to insert the field.

Normally, Word shows the result of the field code unless you click inside it, then it turns to gray.

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Often, you’ll want to see the field code and perhaps change it.  Press Alt + F9  to reveal the field codes or Shift + F9 to reveal only the currently selected field code.

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You can now alter the field code and details.   Alt + F9 again to hide the field codes.

Ctrl + A (Select all) then F9 will update all the fields in a document.

The curly brackets/braces you see aren’t the normal { }  you can type from the keyboard.  To make the field brackets press Ctrl + F9 (but the Insert | Field command is a more reliable way to start a new field code.

Convert a field to text

Sometimes you want to remove the field code and leave only the result.  Do this so the field code isn’t updated any more.

A common use for this is the DATE or PRINTDATE fields which you may want to stay fixed at the current date and not change.

Microsoft calls this ‘Unlinking’ a field.  The rest of us would say it’s converting a field code into it’s result or text.

Unlinking/converting is only available via the Ctrl + Shift + F9 shortcut.

Locking a field

The alternative to unlinking or converting a field is to Lock it.

Locking a field prevents the field from being updated while retaining the field code.  That means the displayed result of the field won’t change until the field is unlocked and updated.

Whether you use unlinking or locking is up to you.

Personally, for the final version of a letter or other important document, we use Unlinking.  That especially applies to dates.  All manner of confusion, embarrassment and accusations can arise if an important past letter appears with the wrong date, because the Word field code has been updated.  Unlinking ‘fixes’ the date shown in the document with no risk of accidental updating.

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