What Word user hasn't had to mess with the Normal.dot template for one
reason or another. And how many of you actually understand what this file is
all about? In this article, I'll attempt to provide you with a better understanding
of the Normal.dotWord's master template. I'll tell you a little about
troubleshooting problems and I'll provide you with a lot of links for further
When we talk about the architecture of a program or network, we're talking
about the underlying layout or structure. In other words, how the program works
to create whatever it creates. If you were talking about a graphics program,
the architecture is most likely very different from the way a word processor
program works. In terms of a spreadsheet program like Excel, the basic architecture
or building blocks of how files are created work on terms of worksheet(s)
being contained inside of a workbook. Just like pages are contained
in a book, such as a ledger.
There are two basic types of files used in Word. One is a .doc, which
stands for Document. The other is a .dot, which stands for Document
Template or just Template.
In Word, you use a template to create documents. You might think of
a template as being like a mold or a stamp. Remember back in grade school when
we cut a design out of a potato? We'd roll ink over it and press it on a paper.
Each image was the same. But once you added the basic image from the ink, you
were free to add any additional designs you wanted...break out the macaroni
and glue! So even if all the kids started out with the same original stamp printed
on a page, by the time each finished with their designing, they all had a different
look. Or maybe you'd prefer to envision a huge chuck of metal like a mold or
die cast? OK, keeping with the kid's theme, remember Creepy Crawlers?<smirk>
You only had a few bug mold plates, but boy what combinations we could create
with those various tubes of colored goop! A dozen different looking spiders,
all created from that same mold.
The Normal.dot template is like that carved potato stamp or bug moldit
contains the basic layout and helps shape any documents created from
this template. All documents are based on a template in Word! Whether it's from
the normal.dot (master template) or some customized template you've created
and specifically select when you click File/New, they're all created
from a template. But what you finally do with that layout can vary.
And if you're thinking that a Wizard is a third item, think again. A
wizard is just an automated way to create a document from a master template
Below is an illustration. On the left you see a blank page with a narrow margin
dotted around the page. This represents my master templatethe Normal.dot
file. I've set my default margins in my normal.dot template to 0.5, or
1/2 inch around. You can think of the template as a stamp, that has stamped
out the basic layout and now the words on the page are the added decorationor
you can think of the template as a mold, holding the basic layout and the letters
are poured into it. Either way, the template holds the form of the document
and your text is added to that form to create your new document.
Notice that there are two resulting documents from the same normal.dot template.
The margins are the same, but the text layout is slightly different.
Here's another illustration, below, which shows the document on the top layer,
with the underlying template. Every time you create a document in Word,
it is being shaped, based on the layout and style settings of a template; and
most often, that template is the Normal.dot template.
Keeping the thought in mind of how templates shape documents they're based
on, realize that if you change a part of the master layout in a template, it
could cause other documents to also be changed. And not always in the way you
might expect! So use caution if you open a template.
If you simply click File/New and make adjustments to the way this individual
document looks, you usually don't have to worry. But, if you click File/Open
and open the actual template fileor, when you close a document
a message asks you if you also want to Save Changes to the [whatever named]
Template?, think about what changes you might be making before
you mindlessly click the "Sure, go ahead...make the change to the master
template and trash all my other docs based on that template!" button. In
Word, I believe that's called the OK button! <smirk>
You can also create your own, customized template. Click File/New and
select the Template option in that dialog to start building a new template.
Or, you can save a document file as a template by choosing File/Save As and
select the Word Template option from the file type drop down in the Save
As dialog box.
Say you want to create special letterhead. You can open a new, blank page,
customize it the way you want, then save it as your Letterhead template. Now
whenever you wanted to create a letter using this letterhead format, you would
click File/New and select your Letterhead template. Now you're
no longer using the default layout from your Normal.dot, but rather using the
molded layout you built in your Letterhead template.
Below is an illustration of a sample letterhead template I've created. I dropped
in a shaded TextBox with pale text providing company details, then set default
margins further in from the left, so the text doesn't type over the side banner.
I've also inserted an automated Date field. In the template on the left, you
can see that I'm displaying the raw field code for the CREATEDATE field.
In the letters on the right, you can see that the date has automatically been
added to two letters created from this template.
Note! When you add a date field to a template (Insert/Field),
you'll usually want to use the Create Date field. The template knows
that new documents will be created from the master template. So the date that
will be added will be the date you create each new letter and not the
date when the template was originally created.
Another type of template you can create is a form or form letter. Whether you
use Mail Merge fields or Form fields, you would design the layout
to look the way you want the resulting document to look. Add your margins, fonts,
and boilerplate text. Boilerplate text is the default text that will
appear in all versions of resulting documents from a template. In a form letter,
you'll have most of the letter written from the boilerplate text. Then the customization
of the letter is added...either through a mail merge, entering information into
fields within the boilerplate text, automatically, or entered manually by the user into form
fields within the boilerplate text.
In the image below, you'll see I've added the letterhead banner, set the margins,
selected the font, added a date field and have entered many of the boilerplate
words, such as Dear, my signature and some of the text for each letter. But
where text such as the recipients name and the reference to their letter will
be added, these areas contain form fields, since this information will be different
for each letter.
If this letter was to be used on an occasional basis, I would leave the form
fields and just tab through the fields, entering the necessary information,
manually. However, if I needed to generate a dozen or thousands of copies of
this same letter with customized info in each, I would opt to use mail merge
fields. Then I could have Word create each custom letter from data in a database.
Creating templates with standard boilerplate text can save you a ton of time
when creating similar documents or letters. Maybe you have to create a report
each month? If so, you can create a master template with the majority of the
boilerplate details added and just leave form fields, mail merge, or autotext
fields in the locations where you need to add details particular to each report.
Or maybe you have some forms that you need employees to fill out? A template
with form fields is the way to go. And you can use a little VBA programming
to add some automation to your form to really knock the boss's socks off!
You really don't want to change the Normal.dot too much, because it's the master
layout for all your new documents in Word. If you were to, say, add a letterhead
banner to your normal.dot file, every page would then have that banner. What
if you wanted to create a document without that banner? You'd have to
open the Normal.dot file, remove the banner and resave it. Then create
your document without the banner. But then you'd have to add it again the next
time you wanted to create a letter with the banner again. Not a very efficient
way to work. So it would be much better to create a custom letterhead template
and just use that when you wanted to write a letter with that banner and leave
the Normal.dot template as vanilla as possible.
A fairly common question I hear is: "How come every time I start a new
document there's the same text already written on my page?" That's because,
somehow, the user managed to open the blank document template (Normal.dot),
typed something on the page, and saved the text to the Normal.dot, as well as
whatever document name they saved the file. So they've altered the master template!
To avoid this, you'll always want to start a new file by clicking the new
page icon, hitting Ctrl/N or clicking File/New. To fix the
problem, the user needs to reopen the Normal.dot file, remove the text and resave
that master template file without the excess text.
However, there are some basic customizations you can do that would probably
allow you to work more efficiently. If you want all your documents, or the majority
of them, created in a particular font, other than the Times Roman, which is
the Normal.dot default font, you can change that.
Open a blank document, click Format/Font and select the font you prefer
as your default starting font face, style and size. Then, on the font dialog
box, you'll find a Default button. Click it. As you can see in the image
below, you'll be warned that this change will affect all new documents based
on the Normal template. But since this is what you want, click Yes.
Note! If you can't change it, check with your system admin, as the company
may have locked the normal.dot template so you can't make these types of changes.
However, you can get around this problem by saving a copy of the Normal.dot
to your own system (assuming it is locked on a network drive). Then click Tools/Options/File
Locations and reset the path to your Normal.dot from the network path to
your own PC path! This will cause Word to use your new default location for the Normal.dot and not the previously defined network location.
Likewise, you can change the default margins in your Normal.dot. The defaults
come set at 1 inch around, I believe. I prefer to get more out of my page, so
I set my default to 0.5 all around. And just as with the font, if you change
the File/Page Setup/Margins settings and click that Default button,
again you'll be warned this will change all new documents, as you can see in
the warning message image below. Click Yes, assuming this is what you
mean to do.
Tip! Want to get the max out of your printer? Set the default margins all to zero. You'll get a warning that the margins are too much. Agree with the computer and let it fix the problem for you. It'll set default margins to the smallest allowable measurement for your particular printer.
Other Normal.dot Settings
The Normal.dot, being the main default file in Word, contains a lot of customization
settings. And because of this, it is prone to corruption. Lots of problems in
Word can be blamed on the Normal.dot file and it seems the problem gets worse
with each new version of Word. So a very common fix you'll hear about with Word
is having someone tell you that your Normal.dot is corrupt and you need to get
a clean version. Yes, this can solve a lot of problems...from Word not being
able to open or close properly, hidden module errors, clearing virus issues,
or fixing text or formatting problems, just to name a few.
Note! Add-ins to Word is another common problem, so be sure to check out this TechTrax article, too, to see if it sounds like it might be the root of your problems: Add-ins...One of Word's Most Common Problems.
However, my pet peeve is when someone mindlessly tells a user to just delete
their Normal.dot! This is not good advice, particularly when
advising a new user! The user may not realize that many custom settings they
may have worked hard to create will be blown away when they delete the file.
Sure, it may fix the current problem, but may also cause them many hours of
work to recreate macros or custom styles or toolbars that are now gone!
A better piece of advice is to help the user understand what's contained
in the Normal.dot file and tell them to temporarily rename the Normal.dot file
to Normal.OLD. This will cause Word to think the file has been
deleted and Word will create a new vanilla Normal.dot. You can then test Word
to see if this did, indeed, fix the problem. If this doesn't solve your problem,
you can always rename your file back to get back your old settings. Or, if it
does help, you can then salvage some of your customizations from your old Normal file
by using the Organizer.
Although, an even better solution is to keep a couple of backup versions of
your Normal.dot. Then if it does become corrupt, you can go back and try older
versions to try to save some of your previous customizations. I have about a
dozen versions of my Normal.dot kept safe. But then I do a lot of wacky customization!
One or two backups are fine for most users.
And when you're attempting to hunt down your Normal.dot template, the fastest
way to figure out where it's located is to click Tools/Options/File Locations.
There you'll find a path to your default template directory. The path may be
long and truncated so you can't view the full path. But you can click Modify
to move to another dialog that fully displays the path. Also know that recent
versions of Word come with the Normal.dot files set as hidden by default.
So you'll have to go into your Windows Explorer's Folder Options (under
View or Tools, depending on the version of Windows you have) and
snoop around the Hidden File settings to open access to all the stuff
Microsoft suggests newbies don't mess with!
Note! To learn more of dealing with these files settings, see this TechTrax article: Why Does Explorer Think I Only Want to See My Documents.
If you do have to try to restore your old settings, or maybe you just want
to move some from one computer to another, you would use the Organizer. The
Organizer is accessible through a few menus, but I generally access it through
Tools/Macros/Macro. There you'll see an Organizer button. Click
it to open the Organizer. Below you'll see the four categories of settings accessible
through the Organizer.
Organizer and Sharing
If you've created any custom Styles, AutoText, Toolbars or Macros, you'll be
able to find them here.
Note in the image below, I've simulated having created a new Normal.dot and
renaming my corrupt one to Normal.old. I then can open each in one of the two
windows of the Organizer. Now I can click on one of the four category tabs,
as mentioned above, and Copy, Delete or Rename any of the items from the old
template. This will save me from having to recreate all this stuff in my new,
WARNING! If you're using the Organizer to recover items after corruption,
it's best to move only a few items at a time and then check how Word
is responding after each move, by closing and reopening Word. One of these items
might have been the cause of your problem and you won't be able to find
the culprit if you move them all en masse!
The first dialog below shows how I would move my custom Styles to my
new Normal.dot or to any template, if I wanted to share or move them.
The second dialog below shows how I would move my custom AutoText to
my new Normal.dot or to any template, if I wanted to share or move them.
The third dialog below shows how I would move my custom Toolbars to
my new Normal.dot or to any template, if I wanted to share or move them.
The fourth dialog below shows how I would move my custom Macros to my
new Normal.dot or to any template, if I wanted to share or move them.
Are you getting the hang of how this works?
For any of the items above, you could easily create a new, custom template,
which can be as simple as a blank page with a few instructions (so you don't
forget what it was created for). Then use the Organizer, pass the items from
one template to another. Then close your new template, which now contains copies
of your custom items, email it to a friend or put it on a shared network template
drive, or even tell your friends to add it to their ...Word/Startup directory.
Any of these methods can allow others to use your custom items.
Note! Check out this TechTrax article for more info about using the Organizer to share your goodies...Sharing Macros.
Solving Other Related Issues
There's a lot more I can tell you about the Normal.dot and these related
issues, but why mess with perfection when other experts have already written
terrific articles on these subjects? Below you'll find links to other articles
that you should find useful.
- Opening/Closing Word Problems
If you ever experience any problems with Word Opening or Closing, be sure
to keep this article handy! It's got a list of solutions and explanations
about various possible causes to your problems and how to get things rolling
Problem Opening (closing) Word
And also be sure to check out this TechTrax article, which relates specifically
to problems for those of you who use Norton Antivirus with Office.
Norton Antivirus and Office XP SP-2
- Templates and Addins
If you want to learn more about Templates and Addins, check out these articles:
What do Templates and Addins Store
Creating a TemplateThe Basics (Part I)
And if you want to learn more about creating Form templates,
you've hit the mother load! This is my specialty! You can find a bunch
of articles on Forms, including a tutorial series here: http://www.mousetrax.com/techpage.html#autoforms.
I've also developed a very popular training course called Word AutoForms and Beginning VBA that teaches newbies how to get rolling creating forms, as well as start learning VBA to add cool automation to your forms. You'll work your
way through the creation of a custom, automated Invoice, that can be customized to use as other form types. See http://www.mousetrax.com/techcourses.html for complete details.
And if you'd just like to have someone create some time and money saving custom templates for you...be sure to check out my Consulting page. Lots of solution ideas there, too!
- Letters and Envelopes
If your template creations involve Letters and Envelopes, the series
of Letter articles listed on our series page:
TechTrax Series Library
- Moving AutoCorrect Entries
Although you can use the Organizer to move Styles, AutoText, Toolbars and
Macros, AutoCorrect entries are found in an ACL file. The article linked below
provides details and includes a utility to make the job of moving and backing
up AutoText entries, easier.
How can I import and export all my AutoCorrect entries, so they can be transferred
to another machine? http://www.mvps.org/word/FAQs/Customization/ExportAutocorrect.htm